Google Glass rival: The Vuzix M100 hands-free digital display device. Photo: Bloomberg
Wearable technology is, without doubt, the biggest and most exciting technology trend at the moment.
In 2013, companies showed us that these devices can actually be used to improve day-to-day life; and 2014 is shaping up to be a landmark year for wearable gadgets.
A host of established brands kicked off the craze with simple devices to measure footsteps (Nike+ FuelBand), access your smartphone from your wrist (Pebble smart watch), and make computing hands free (Google Glass).
On the cuff: Sony’s smartband (left) and LG's Lifeband Touch (right).
Wearable gadgets have had their warmest welcome in the fitness market, where products such as the Nike+ FuelBand SE, Fitbit Force, and Jawbone UP 24 measure the wearer's daily activity and sync with apps to analyse the data.
But now the devices are looking to do much more than simply measure footsteps. The new Jawbone UP 24 measures sleep patterns, gently wakes you up with a soft vibration alarm, and can even turn on the lights after you wake up, if they are internet connected.
Sony, Intel and LG were among the companies to jump on the fitness bandwagon at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. LG also unveiled headphones that measure heart rate and oxygen use.
A hit: The Pebble smart watch.
But fitness freaks are not the only ones keen to strap a new gadget onto their wrists. Numerous companies are looking to rejuvenate that timeless accessory: the watch. By treating the watchface as another computer-powered screen, companies such as Samsung, Razer and Pebble – which set a Kickstarter crowd-funding record when it sold 85,000 units for $US150 ($167) each before they had even been built – are strapping communications onto our bodies.
Pebble's smart watch uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone and show incoming calls, messages and emails. It has GPS and is built on e-paper, so it can be read in direct sunlight.
Developers can also build apps that use the watch to play music, use GPS navigation and take photos using your smartphone's camera.
Razer unveiled its Nabu smartband at CES – a combination smart watch and fitness band that tracks activity and sleep patterns and alerts the user to calls, messages and even nearby friends.
But some gadgets have not always lived up to the hype.
Last year's biggest wearable device launch was also its most disappointing: the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch. Rushed out to beat rivals Google and Apple, it failed to impress both reviewers and consumers. Although early bugs were fixed and a social-networking functionality was added, it ultimately lacked the wow factor.
Undeterred, independent developers have used crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to try to build more sophisticated wearable gadgets.
These include Vuzix, a Google Glass alternative that doesn't have a camera; Cynaps, a baseball cap with a speaker that uses vibration to send messages through your skull; and Via, a Kickstarter project for a bracelet that glows in sync with a signal from a heart-monitoring device worn on the chest.
But the Via project raised less than $5000 of its $300,000 funding goal. Founder Brenda McCaffrey says the main difficulty is developing electronics that can fit into a sleek, stylish casing. Regardless, she believes we are just seeing the the tip of the wearable technology iceberg.
"Most of the large wearable tech companies are primarily working with simple sensors, mostly accelerometers, and they've done a nice job converting this sensor information into a product, but there is much more complexity under the surface of these products than meets the eye."
Last year, big brands such as Nike and Google showed us wearable technology was more than just science fiction. This year, independent developers working in tandem with crowd-funding websites will refine and push that technology further than we can imagine.