Nerds and non-nerds alike are overwhelming Santa this year with requests for wearable technologies, those mini electronic devices that are worn with (or on top of) clothing.
We can’t get enough of wearables, including smartwatches, fitness tracking bands, and smart glasses. The largest tech companies — Google, Samsung, and reportedly Apple — are pushing the trend into the mainstream. And in tech hubs around the world, developers are building cool new wearable devices and applications just in time for the holidays.
2013 is the year wearables rose to prominence, according to Tan Le, chief executive of Emotiv, a company that produces a wireless headset that records your brainwaves. “We saw the emergence of wearables that not only tackle physical wellbeing, but also cognitive, behavioral, and mental wellbeing,” she said.
Considering buying a wearable for a loved one this festive season? You’ll have plenty of options, ranging from the functional (a Lark Pro to track your sleep) to the downright bizarre (a smart belt that sends a Facebook “like” when you make a thrusting motion).
Like puppies, wearables are a serious purchase decision with consequences stretching far past December. To help you avoid making an expensive mistake, we trawled the web for reviews, consulted our followers on Twitter, and interviewed a dozen industry executives and investors.
Here’s the ultimate wearable gift …
For your awkward teen sibling
Google Glass (ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 on eBay) is currently available to members of the Explorer program, who are typically developers. But you can also buy the smart glasses, which let you record video and share on social media via a device mounted to the side of your face, on peer-to-peer e-commerce sites like eBay.
Since a Google Glass sighting in the wild is still a rarity, your little sister would love you forever. It’s a great conversation starter in a coffee shop or grocery store. So for your young single brother, it may be the perfect way to pick up chicks.
For your parents
Most of us could use a couple extra hours of sleep every night — or at least to start our days with as little stress as possible. Lark Pro ($159) is the perfect gift for a couple. Sport the wearable wristband at night, and it will track your sleep cycles. In the morning, it gently wakes you up with a natural vibration to avoid that awful adrenaline rush when an alarm clock goes off.
Lark may even be able to help your parents wean themselves off coffee. The company cites Duke University Medical Center research showing that a burst of caffeine can only give you a temporary kick. Lark helps people stay energized throughout the day by improving the quality of your sleep.
For your fashionista friend
As Misfit Wearables‘ chief executive Sonny Vu often says, “wearables aren’t all that wearable” yet. Most of the devices on the market are clunky; New York fashion editors we interviewed called them “hideous.” Vu’s jewel-like device, the Misfit Shine ($119.99) is an exception to the rule. It was designed for urban, professional women in mind and is frequently described in the press as “futuristic jewelry.”
The Shine is available in a variety of colors, including champagne and topaz. You can wear it as a necklace, brooch, or band, and it will track your fitness levels on a daily basis. The Shine also integrates with an iPhone and Android app, where you can set goals and peruse statistics about your health.
For your gym buddy
It wasn’t easy to pick between dozens of activity trackers on the market. But our mobile editor, Devindra Hardawar, strongly recommends the Jawbone UP24 ($150) or the new Fitbit Force ($129.95) if you’re planning on scooping one up for a fitness-obsessed friend.
If you’re a bargain hunter, you may also want to consider an earlier version of the Force, the Fitbit Flex, which is available for $30 less. The Flex isn’t all that different from the Force, but the Force does boast a smaller OLED display that is slowly but steadily winning over gadget reviewers.
For the style-conscious friend, the Jawbone UP24 is another solid option. While the Force tracks steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and how long you sleep, the UP24 also tracks your mood and sleep and presents this information in a clear format. But make sure that your friend owns an iOS device before you buy; the device doesn’t integrate with Android yet. Another benefit is the look: Most people like the coiled design of the UP, which wraps around your wrist like a small snake.
For your dog-obsessed aunt
GPS collars are all the rage in fancy dog parks. The latest offering from PetTracker is a smart GPS device that lets you track a pet’s location from a mobile device or computer. With Tagg, you can see what your pet is doing 24/7 and view stats on Rover’s activity levels throughout the day.
The tracker can be attached to a regular collar and is designed to be worn at all times. According to the website, it can even stay on at the swimming pool.
For the selfie-hating, life-logging hipster
Clip the Narrative to your collar or pocket, and it will automatically take photographs and assign GPS coordinates. According to the Narrative website, once the images are uploaded, the software works to “organize the photos to work as a photographic memory that can be accessed at any time, even after many years, without the user ever feeling overwhelmed or disorganized.”
Narrative only works for a few days before you’ll need to recharge the device, so it does have its limitations. But it’s a romantic idea, as you’ll capture life’s most mundane moments. In years to come, it may be totally overwhelming or a delightful exercise to peruse these photographs.
For your partner or crush
What could be cooler than a headset that lets you control almost anything using your mind? In Ontario, Canada, a group of researchers have invented a futuristic-sounding device called Muse by InteraXon, which turns your thoughts into binary 1s and 0s.
The Muse headband won’t be in the hands of consumers until next year (you could scribble your lover an “IOU.”) But you can buy a brain-wave starter kit from a San Jose-based company called NeuroSky. NeuroSky’s device lets you learn more about your brain and how it responds in new situations or when listening to your favorite music. What could be more intimate than learning about your brain activity with a loved one?
If this all sounds a little too nerdy and tame, you could gift a lover with one of the new smart vibrators. Android users can get their hands on an early version of the Vibease ($79) via the Indiegogo campaign.
When women browse for erotica that turns them on, the device vibrates accordingly. The founders spent several years conducting research, and identified four elements of the female orgasm — audio, emotion, fantasy, and clitoral stimulation. The goal of Vibease, they say, is to give women “the best orgasm experience ever” by addressing each of these elements.
Agree with our suggestions? Are you hoping to find a wearable device under the tree this Christmas? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.