Mobile giant Telefónica will integrate made-in-Israel communication tech into wearable devices that can stand-in for smartphones
BY DAVID SHAMAH
They may not be making Maxwell Smart-style shoe-phones just yet, but manufacturers like Google, LG, Samsung and Sony Mobile are working on watches, rings, bracelets, hats and even eyewear — with Google Glass the best-known example – that let you answer and make phone calls, listen to music, get information from the web, and record fitness and other information. And based on an announcement by Spain-based cellphone giant Telefónica, Israeli-developed technology may end up powering a lot of these devices.
In advance of the first-ever WearableTech, a major international event to take place in May in Israel dedicated to wearable technology, Telefónica has announced it is working to integrate a communications platform made by its Israeli R&D center into wearable devices being developed by some of the world’s largest hardware manufacturers.
That wearable technology, as the category is known, is likely to be a “next big thing” was evident to visitors at the recently concluded Barcelona Mobile World Congress. Dozens of companies showed prototypes or beta products of wearables, designed to enable users to communicate, get or record information, or entertain themselves without reaching for their smartphone. Among the offerings at MWC were dozens of prospective wearable tech solutions that will deliver information, videos, health data, and much more, according to the many companies developing the technology.
Israel is an “early adopter” of wearable tech, with local R&D facilities of a number of multi-nationals – including Intel and Microsoft – said to be working on wearable tech solutions. But the first multi-national to go public with its Israeli wearable tech solution is Spain-based Telefónica, which serves over 300 million users in Europe and South America. During MWC, Telefónica announced that it will work with LG, Samsung and Sony Mobile to integrate its services in the wearables being developed by those companies. That integration, said Gil Cohen, CEO of Telefónica Digital Labs Israel, will be based on Telefónica’s Tu Go technology, developed in Israel.
Tu Go allows users to receive or make phone calls on any device using wifi or a GSM cell connection. A Telefónica Tu Go user can choose to answer a call dialed into their regular cellphone number on their smartphone, or on any other smart device. It’s similar to the kind of service users can get with apps like Skype, which can make calls to any device, but only using wifi, and only via an app. Tu Go integrates any-device-app capabilities into its cell network, allowing users to take advantage of all of Telefónica’s services, and enabling users to answer calls anywhere, regardless of network quality, the company said.
From there, it’s just a small jump to integrating the tech into smart watches, rings, hats, bracelets, jewelry, and other devices being developed by manufacturers, which will include cell, bluetooth, and wifi connections. “The Tu Go technology we developed and are continuing to work on here will be a significant part of the wearables that manufacturers are working on,” said Cohen. “With our Tu Go technology, anyone will be able to take their personal phone number with them anywhere, connection them to the world via a wearable device.”
One example of Tu Go integration showcased at MWC was Sony’s One SmartBand SWR10 device. The SmartBand is a bracelet that provides subtle notifications when a call, message, Facebook Like or tweet is received and when a user is out of range (up to 10 m) from their smartphone. It can also be used to play, pause and skip music tracks by pressing the button, or tapping the band – and it will even measure sleep cycles to prompt wake up, based on the readings of the integrated Lifelog app, which records steps taken, heart rate, etc.
Commenting on the development deal, Marieta Rivero, Global Marketing Director of Telefónica S.A said “Smart wearables are already a commercial reality and have an even more promising future. Many analysts have rightly identified the significant market opportunity with wearable technology and Telefónica wants to lead the development, integration and support of services that wearables provide.”
Telefónica Digital Labs is hardly the only Israeli group working on wearable tech. There are actually dozens, and many of them will be showing their wares at WearableTech. On the agenda will be discussions, hacks, and demos of the latest wearable tech devices, with appearances by tech guru Robert Scoble, flash drive inventor Dov Moran, crowdfunding pioneer Jon Medved, and the heads of wearable tech and vision tech companies like uMoove, Misfit Wearables, and Avegant.
Among the products on display will be Meta glasses, developed by Meron Gribetz, a graduate of an elite technological unit in the Israel Defense Forces where he worked on vision technology devices, and is now using his skills to build what he calls “the Google Glass you would actually want to wear. You can use if for gaming, you can use it for research. It’s the immersive entertainment consumption wearable computer – as opposed to Google Glass, which is the information retrieval wearable computer.” Plus, it looks a lot cooler-looking than Google Glass, he said.
It’s just an example of the advanced devices that will be on display at WearableTech, said event organizer Nir Kouris. “The show will feature some of the latest and best wearable tech devices, and will bring together entrepreneurs, investors, programmers, and wearable tech companies. Israel is a leader in this area, and we believe that the event will yield some important news about wearable tech in general, and how Israeli companies are working to develop it.”