Smartwatch Is Next Step In 'Quantified Self' Life-Logging : All Tech Considered Smartwatches are capturing imaginations because of what they can measure about their wearers. A watch touches your skin, so it can take your pulse, measure your temperature and record the quality of your sleep.

Smartwatch Is Next Step In 'Quantified Self' Life-Logging

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Tomorrow, Apple is expected to unveil a new generation of products, likely a new low-cost iPhone, perhaps a new iPad. One of the most persistent rumors this year has been that the company is building a smartwatch.

As NPR's Steve Henn reports, the idea of an iWatch captured many people's imaginations because of a watch's potential to measure so much information about its wearer.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Last week, Samsung rolled out its own smartwatch, but the reviews have been poor. The battery life is bad. And while the watch has voice recognition, a la Dick Tracy, it left many gadget geeks flat.

BRAD FELD: So the watch itself, if all it is is a glorified smartphone and has some other features to it, not so interesting.

HENN: Brad Feld is a venture capitalist in Boulder, Colorado. What really excites technologists like him about watches is how intimate these devices could be. A watch touches your skin. It can take your pulse, measure your temperature, record the quality of your sleep. Feld says it could become almost an extension of yourself, almost like another organ.

FELD: I think we're at version 0.1 of human instrumentation.

HENN: Feld envisions a world of wearable devices, not just watches, that record all kinds of intimate details about our lives. He thinks this data could help make all of us healthier, happier and more fulfilled human beings. This is the idea of the Quantified Self.

SARAH ROTMAN EPPS: When you talk about Quantified Self, it's important to acknowledge that it's a social movement first.

HENN: Sarah Rotman Epps is at Forrester research.

EPPS: It's a group of people who identify themselves as being interested in quantifying themselves, in tracking data about their lives.

HENN: And Brad Feld is one of them. He's trying to run a marathon in every state in the country and uses technology to track himself obsessively.

FELD: So I use a bunch of different things. I have a Fitbit.

HENN: It tracks his daily activity. He invested in that company as well.

FELD: I then instrument myself whenever I run.

HENN: A watch logs his route, his elevation, his pace.

FELD: That gets integrated with my training software. All of those then are linked to obviously heart rate data.

HENN: He logs his weight, runs blood tests quarterly and uses devices to track his sleep. Most people probably won't follow Brad Feld down this path. But...

EPPS: I have tried it.

HENN: And Sara Rotman Epps says Forrester Research found roughly a third of adults would like to use something like this to track things like sleep. Millions of Americans already are. But all of this data can be incredibly revealing.

EPPS: I choose not to wear these devices when I'm in bed, so whether that's I'm sleeping or I'm doing something else.


EPPS: That's just where I draw my own personal line. But other people are different.

HENN: In 2011, Fitbit accidentally posted information online about when some of its users were having sex.

EPPS: You are opting to put this data in the Cloud.

HENN: Sarah Rotman Epps.

EPPS: Having interviewed many of these companies for our research on privacy, and where this is going...

HENN: Rotman Epps has some concerns.

EPPS: ...the attitude of these companies is that they will be stewards of your data. But the reality is they don't even know what their business model is.

HENN: Members of the Quantified Self movement have demanded that many firms let users download and delete their own information. But Rotman Epps is still leery. She says if a company changes its privacy policy, there's not much a user could do. Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.


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