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Intel and Amazon aim to learn from mobile mistakes with Thalmic investment

Thalmic arm

The smartwatch market may have already peaked but there is hope in the form of Thalmic gesture control, and some tech giants are smart enough to see it.

As we argued recently there is little reason to buy a smartwatch, or indeed any wearable, unless you’re the kind of ostentatious exercise freak that needs to track every step, mile and calorie and share those Herculean efforts with the rest of the world.

The problem, you see, is the user interface. A one-inch square watch face is just not enough screen real estate for even the smallest human being to interact with on anything but the most rudimentary level. This problem is insurmountable so long as you treat them like mini smartphones, but if you completely rethink the UI then there’s hope.

Perennial mobile strugglers Intel and Amazon have, through their VC arms, joined forces with Fidelity Investments Canada to provide $120 million in Series B funding to gesture UI startup Thalmic.

Thalmic’s signature product is the Myo Armband, a wearable you wrap around your arm which senses both the movements and the electrical activity in your arm to convert those gestures into digital commands. As the video below demonstrates, this allows control of other stuff like pointers, devices and even remote controlled gadgets.

It’s easy to imagine smartwatches enabled with this technology to offer several things they currently don’t. While they could be used to control external devices the real value might be added by augmenting their own control via gestures. Additionally, if the gesture UI is sophisticated enough, users could even write via gesture and while there will be cultural challenges created by people walking around waving their arms like deranged conductors, this could be the sort of thing that makes wearables worth buying.

Intel spent a decade or so trying to become relevant in mobile before admitting defeat earlier this year and deciding IoT and cloud are the future. Meanwhile Amazon had the bright idea of launching a de-featured smartphone at a premium price point a couple of years ago and has been licking its mobile wounds ever since. If, though investments like this, the two US giants get a head start in the wearables space they might just have the last laugh, although their track record suggests otherwise.


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