Wearable Tech World Feature Article
January 07, 2014

Sony's New Keys to Owning the Wearable Tech Space? The Core, SmartBand and LifeLog


Sony is certainly no stranger to the wearable tech space. In fact one might be tempted to label Sony a pioneer in the space, having had a shipping wearable device in hand for several years already. If you are wondering about this we are of course referring to the company's smartwatch, the latest iteration of which is the currently shipping Sony SmartWatch 2. The problem Sony has here is that it hasn't actually sold very many of these and not a lot of people are providing the necessary word of mouth recommendations and "likes" to turn it into a marketplace success.

It is with this background in mind that last evening Sony gathered the media in Las Vegas at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for a press conference to let us in on some of the things the company is now working on across a range of product categories. Hosted by Sony's president and CEO Kazuo Hirai, last evening's event will be followed today by Hirai also delivering the CES opening day keynote (stay tuned for coverage) at 9 am PST so Sony is at least working hard to gain back some of its former recognition not as a follower but as a leader in consumer tech.

Almost predictably, Sony is - as is almost everyone else at CES this year - getting onto the wearable tech bandwagon not merely as a design exercise (which is how we think of the Sony SmartWatch) but as a full-fledged market Sony needs to both significantly tap into and try to own. Hirai acknowledged wearable tech as one of the new emerging market segments Sony needs to own. What are the odds? It's a longshot but we do admire the effort.

The overall Sony CES theme this year is "play and fun" and the company has come up with a range of cool products, especially 4K TVs (the new 85 inch 4k TV is simply stunning!), 4K camcorders and players, augmented reality devices, waterproof wireless headphones - to name a few (cameras, dog action cams, smartphones, Ultrabooks and Play Stations and so on are all there as well of course) - far more than wearable tech. In fact the entire 4K TV side of consumer (and professional) tech is really Sony's bread and butter and where it truly needs to regain the leadership it has lost to Samsung and LG.

Wondering about that ‘dog action cam’? Here it is:

Regardless of this large range of products however, the most interesting thing from our perspective (aside from the dog action cam) is Sony's attempt to expand beyond the "status quo" on wearable tech - which Sony has newly dubbed its "SmartWear Experience." This time around the company is looking to break out of the smartwatch mold (there was in fact no actual mention of smartwatches during the press conference) and is looking to join the activity tracking community as well - though it wants to take things many step further by introducing a spiffy new device and app that extends well beyond activity monitoring.

The key, Sony believes, is to be able to integrate numerous wearable tech types of activities in a "fun, entertaining and social way" that will allow you to "discover your past, enjoy your present and inspire your future." Those are truly lofty words! How does Sony hope to get us there?

At the Core

It begins with a small device that Sony has dubbed "the Core," a wearable, waterproof and wireless sensor-laden device that is meant to be installed within numerous wearable products. Sony's first step in utilizing this new multi-use and multi-activity tracking device is to embed it a slightly larger consumer product Sony calls the SmartBand. It is worth underscoring here that the Core is waterproof, which provides certain advantages in terms of the device applications it can handle.

The Core provides three LED lights, a control button on the side that allows a user to record moments in their life (at least this will be the case with Sony's new related Sony Lifelog mobile app), as well as a vibration motor that, when paired to any app on a mobile device that can take advantage of it (such as the LifeLog) will provide notifications and alerts. Sony suggests that the Core will require recharging about every five days.

During the presentation Sony EVP and Sony Mobile Communications president and CEO Kunimasa Suzuki noted that the Core is perhaps the smallest device Sony has ever made, as he shows us below.

That it is the smallest device Sony has ever made is no doubt true, but it strikes us as being too large to actually build, say, a smartwatch around. We're not sure why, as a user, we wouldn't simply want our smartwatch to be able to deliver on the capabilities Sony has embedded within the Core. No doubt Sony will continue to shrink the hardware, and will continue to refine its vision around the Core, but our immediate guess (a gut reaction, we have nothing else to go on) is that Sony needs to figure out how to create a single device around its smartwatch.

We're not suggesting that there will not be potentially many users who are also interested in smart watches. A stylish SmartBand may be all a user wants - certainly Jawbone and Nike have proven this already. We ourselves fall into the unified camp - we'd love a smartwatch that can also do what Sony suggests the SmartBand will do. There is our two cents!

As noted earlier, the Core is embedded in the SmartBand - though in truth the band is really more of a strap that holds the core in place rather than being truly embedded - and serves as the first of potentially numerous devices that can be built around the Core. Below is a view of the SmartBand in the range of colors it will likely be brought to market with.

As with every other activity tracker, once the SmartBand is ready to go it will begin to collect endless and varied streams of data - 24 hours a day and seven days a week if Sony has its way. What to do with all that data? Send it wirelessly to a Sony Experia Android smartphone of course, which will in turn have what Sony calls its new LifeLog application installed. LifeLog will - or should - work on any Android device. In terms of wearable tech apps, Sony intends to drive significant efforts to work closely with numerous third party developers to build their own apps to work with the Core.

Let's recall the words that Hirai used at the beginning of the presentation: to offer a "fun, entertaining and social way" to "discover your past, enjoy your present and inspire your future." This is the central mantra for LifeLog, several views of which are shown here:

In demonstrating the LifeLog app and SmartBand, Suzuki also noted that, “We’re not just about motion, but emotion - it isn't simply about logging your motion. It makes recommendations for you.” This last bit Suziki notes about recommendations ties in with Hirai's notion of inspiring your future.

So what can LifeLog do? Well, based on the very brief demonstration provided we can say that the app will be able to track the usual collection of activity monitoring events (steps taken, distance walked, calories burned, etc.), sleep patterns, record a timeline of content accessed on a user's mobile device (e.g. movies watched, songs played during a workout, etc.), map routes, and track text messages and other communications, photos and specific weather details. That's a lot of "stuff."

Here is the Sony differentiator: LifeLog will take all that data and provide a visual timeline display through a side-scrolling timeline on the user's connected mobile device. Eventually it will gather enough data to begin making recommendations, though we have no idea of this end of things…yet.

We'd like to offer more on all three of these products - however Sony itself clearly admitted towards the end of the presentation that its larger wearable tech vision at this point is still an outline. We'll have to leave it here - it is all we know as of this moment in time.

We definitely like the overall abstract however - the idea of being able to tie together so many events that can be monitored, captured and analyzed is a very interesting goal. A lot will rest on the sorts of recommendations that will be provided. Whether this ends up being trivial (take another 1,000 steps today) or truly useful (we'll leave that to your imagination) will be key for Sony.

Ultimately however the real issue remains the same issue as with the Sony SmartWatch 2 - can Sony generate real and effective marketing efforts to drive brand and product awareness so that enough people will give the new products a shot and build real sell-through momentum? There is no answer for that. Sony suggests that the spring - a nebulous timeframe at best - will see delivery of the SmartBand and LifeLog. If that delivery timeframe holds up it will give Sony plenty of time to begin showing us what it can all really do - and we'll extend Sony an invitation here to join us at our Summer 2014 Wearable Tech Conference in New York City July 23rd and 24th to show us for real.

We very much look forward to that possibility. Meanwhile we'll leave you with the following Sony video that provides a glimpse into what Sony hopes to deliver on with its new wearable tech products. 




Edited by Cassandra Tucker



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