The human body is holding back the progress of wearable video conferencing tech.
Smartwatches, the most popular and versatile of the current generation of wearable devices, just have no room to balance all their video calling potential on the human wrist.
That’s because the key elements of the video conferencing experience–the screen, the camera, and the user interface–just don’t shrink nearly as well as other technological advances.
A microchip that fits on a pin head is great, but a video calling screen that’s only 1.5 inches? In my opinion, not so great.
That’s not likely to change if manufacturers continue to treat video calling as just one of many functions on the smartwatch, rather than the reason for buying a smartwatch in the first place.
There’s hope, though, for visionaries like us at VC Daily. One new smartwatch player is at least beginning to adapt the watch to the video caller.
Video Calling for the Apple Watch
But first let’s consider the wearable tech that seems to have cornered the market: the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch is a prime example of how the video caller has been neglected in the development of what has remained pretty much a novelty item.
The market’s most popular brand doesn’t have a camera. It has never had a camera.
It has instead been used primarily as a fitness device for tracking distances and heart rates, and as an alternate notification system for the iPhone.
Perhaps Apple took a look at the first generation of Samsung Galaxy Gear and agreed with everyone else that the enormous camera mounted on the wristband and the oversized watch face just wasn’t going to work as a chic everyday accessory.
But what some may see as a wise design consideration, has been seen by Glide–a hardware newcomer and instant message app builder–as a potential weakness to be exploited. In November, Glide unveiled the CMRA, a wristband that attaches to the Apple Watch and brings with it two video calling enabled cameras.
Wearable Video Calling
The CMRA design is sleek enough on first viewing. The two cameras sit front and rear of the watch face on the band, and they’re more akin to the little nodes on your smartphone than the engorged bumps on the Galaxy.
Glide was also wise enough to include extra battery power in the wristband, which will have the crossover effect of giving the Watch itself more staying power–although recent updates from Apple have already addressed some of the watches’ widely-bemoaned battery shortcomings.
CMRA won’t ship until spring 2017, so no one knows for sure how just how clear and smooth the video calling experience will be, but Glide promises HD quality, noise reduction, pixel optimization, and it has included 8GB of onboard memory to aid the process. Without a keyboard interface it’ll no doubt be reliant on iPhone assistance to load up your contacts and perform similar middle-man duties.
That tether, and the familiar alignment of the cameras–mimicking as they do the arrangement of your smartphone–are something of an acknowledgment of what CMRA’s real competitors will be.
It’s not the dozens of other smartwatches, it’s the smartphone.
Video Conferencing on Smartphone–Still Better
Unfortunately, CMRA does nothing to improve the visuals of video calling on a smartwatch like the Apple Watch. The screen is still about half an inch away from being even half of the iPhone 7 Plus’ screen.
When that bigger screen is sitting in your pocket already and when it is simply a much easier way to instant message, make audio calls, text, and search the internet, it makes the whole CMRA exercise seem redundant.
CMRA could have mounted a better case for Apple Watch video calling by innovating to increase the size of the screen.
While there are always going to be bulk and design restrictions, how about bringing back an element of the flip-phone era and designing a way for the screen to fold out into a triple panel screen that rivals iPhone measurements?
Or perhaps we need a convex covering that magnifies the screen, like a, well, magnifying glass. Better still, why don’t we find a way to project the image from the watch face and into the air, much like current portable hologram tech does?
Perhaps CMRA will finally establish video calling as the savior application for the device. But a little more viewing room sure would help.