By Cyril Tuohy
How about buying a life insurance or an annuity, or signing up for a 401(k) plan, by simply pushing a few buttons on your wristwatch?
Somehow the concept doesn’t seem so far-fetched now that Samsung and Pebble have released wrist-hugging hardware that works with smartphones powered by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems.
Wearable computing devices have “real potential,” said Sean Belka, senior vice president and director of the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology.
Fidelity Labs says it has just released its new “watchapp” for Pebble. Fidelity calls the app its first “investment information app for smartwatch.”
“Five years ago, we released a pilot of one of the first investing apps for the iPhone,” Belka said in a statement. “We’re taking that forward-looking approach now with wearables, which may be just as popular someday.”
Bulky rectangular calculators by Casio, Texas Instruments and Hewlett-Packard were once cutting edge.
By the early 1980s, microchips had become so small that you could load them onto a watch. Then it simply became a question of how many calculator functions could reasonably fit onto the hardware adorning your wrist.
Simple calculator functions were available at your fingertips because the calculator was on your wrist. It drove high school examiners crazy.
Fast forward 35 years and some of the apps available for smartphones can now run on a wristwatch. Pebble wearers can view stock lists, market information and alerts throughout the day by connecting Fidelity’s app for Android-based smartphones to the watch, Fidelity said.
It’s the latest foray into what is quickly becoming a “wearable computing” trend, which first hit the market with Google Glass.
The glasses allow wearers to take pictures, record voices, share what you see, follow directions, send messages and translate instructions in different languages. Last fall, Fidelity released an app for the eyeglasses.
Hadley Stern, vice president of Fidelity Labs, said that last year Fidelity released experimental software for Google Glass. Since then, Fidelity has collected reams of data about customer usage. “We expect to do the same with Pebble,” he said.
“These experiments arm us with the information and tools we need to create new and better service with wearable technology,” Stern also said.
When consumers and advisors can expect new life insurance and retirement apps to appear on their $1,500 smartglasses or their Pebble smartwatches is anybody’s guess. There’s still some time before that happens – if ever.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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