Steve Wozniak on Galaxy Gear, Google Glass, & Future of Wearables

7/1/14Follow @XconomyWI

There’s been much ado in the past year over wearable devices, as a proliferation of smartwatches and fitness trackers desperately try to win over consumers and prove they have staying power in the market. Yet even if most of them don’t last, these emerging technologies at least provide new gadgets for Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to try out.

Wozniak, who helped ignite the PC revolution with his design of the Apple II computer in the late 1970s, is a well-known early adopter of shiny new toys, from the Segway (which he has used both as a means of transportation and for playing polo) to Tesla Motors’ electric-powered car.

In recent months, smartwatches and other wearable tech has been the hot topic in interviews with Wozniak. So, when the Woz visited Milwaukee last week to speak at the Flying Car innovation conference, I decided to see if his outlook on wireless devices has changed at all.

The short answer: no. But he did share some funny anecdotes about his experiences with wearables and voiced a measured attitude toward the devices’ future that is refreshing to hear, considering the general hype among tech companies (and media).

Wozniak still thinks that smartwatches won’t be truly useful until the screens get bigger. (He’s previously said that foldable, plastic displays could be the answer to that problem. The idea is that wrapping a larger screen around the arm would avoid potential clunkiness.)

And he still wants the world on his wrist.

“I want my smartphone here, but I really want the whole thing,” Wozniak said after his Milwaukee keynote discussion. “I don’t want just a little Bluetooth connection to the smartphone in my pocket because then it’s just an intermediary, an extra thing I buy to get what I already have and have to carry anyway.”

Samsung, Pebble, and Qualcomm are among the companies that have come out with smartwatches, but thus far, Wozniak’s favorite is one made by Martian. It doesn’t have a touch screen, but a tiny display below the watch hands indicates who is calling, and the watch has a good speaker, Wozniak said.

The worst smartwatch that Woz has tried? The Samsung Galaxy Gear.

“That was the only technology I bought to experiment with that I threw out after half a day, sold it on eBay because it was so worthless and did so little that was convenient,” Wozniak said. “You had to hold it up to your ear and stuff.”

For several years, Wozniak has worn a Nixie Watch, made by Arizona inventor David Forbes, which runs on a disposable lithium battery and uses 40-year-old display technology that involves old vacuum tubes. When he turns his wrist, the display lights up with the hours, followed by the minutes. Wozniak initially bought it because it was unusual, but he found that it was easier to read the time than with other watches, he said. (See a clip below of the watch in action.)

“I look for things that are a little unusual that my friends wouldn’t have,” Wozniak explained during his keynote speech.

Wozniak is a fan of Google Glass, which he thinks has a cool factor that he compared with someone wearing a tongue ring. Now, beta users must determine if Google Glass adds value to their lives.

“It may not be that useful, just like smartwatches may not be useful enough to get the critical mass they need to really go ahead,” Wozniak said. “But everything I’ve done with Google Glass, I actually kind of liked playing with it.”

At this point, Wozniak hasn’t seen the breakthrough wearable device that will win broad consumer adoption.

“If 30 companies are doing the same thing, you know it’s wrong,” Wozniak said. “When one company does one thing very strikingly different, and everybody says this company got it right, this is the way of the future. In the past, it’s been Apple a number of times—not always. So I’m really hoping that Apple’s the big breakthrough” with wearables.

Although the “iWatch” has circled the rumor mill for months, Apple has yet to officially join the smartwatch fray.

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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  • RonJohn

    “The idea is that wrapping a larger screen around the arm would avoid potential clunkiness.”

    Futurama’s writers thought of that 15 years ago.

  • Chester Whiseant

    Woz, you should get a Motorola MotoACTV and root it: It’s billed as a fitness tracker (and functions as a smart watch), but becomes a capable WiFi equipped Android tablet with a little help. The crazy thing is that Motorola started making it in 2011 and discontinued it last year, and it seems very few people noticed it! It runs facebook messenger just fine, the gmail app, opera browser, even youtube and angry birds if you like. From what I’ve seen, it’s closer than the Galaxy Watch to “the world on your wrist.” http://motoactv.wikispaces.com/

  • endinyal

    I recall Android fanboys all praising Woz for criticizing Apple for not getting “soft” on innovation. This is a perfect example. Samsung came out with this garbage for one simple reason, and it was to say they did it “first” so they don’t look like the same “me-too” copyist. Many iHaters lapped that junk up. At least Woz admitted it was junk. This is the problem with the cheap imitators. They throw everything out there and hope something sticks.

    Samsung should be ashamed of themselves for putting out such sheer garbage.