A little white box, which at first doesn’t look much, made some serious waves at the Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai earlier this week. This aforementioned box, about the size of a rather cumbersome credit card, is one of those technological developments which may just open the door to a whole new way of interacting with our daily devices.
It’s a portable SIM, manufactured by Japan’s largest mobile phone operator NTT Docomo, which says it has plans to downsize the product so it can fit into bracelets and watches.
When you think about it, apart from shrinking a few millimeters, the SIM card hasn’t really evolved much over the past decade or so, so some would argue this advancement is overdue. What’s more, now that the hardware behind wearable technology is finally catching up with the concept, the portable SIM’s arrival could be perfectly timed.
What It Does
In short, the portable SIM does all the things a conventional SIM does - store numbers, account information and personal data - and more. It uses NFC and Bluetooth technology to connect with other electronic devices, allowing users to tap a portable SIM to a phone and to transfer all their data, including contacts, home screen settings and caller ID to that handset. Anyone who has had to juggle business and personal phones at the same time will be relieved at the prospect of having just one handset and using a portable SIM to seamlessly and quickly switch between the two.
There are, of course other potential uses for portable SIMs, including the ability to store credentials and personal information, which would potentially, and tantalisingly, negate the need to remember several dozen usernames and passwords for a variety of online accounts.
The fact that wearable technology is moving from niche into mainstream is what makes this development all the more exciting. The idea of smart accessories is nothing new, from the calculator watch to iPod’s partnership with Nike running gear, but it seems like 2013 was the year wearable technology finally made that giant leap into the public’s line of vision, in the same way that tablets did a few years ago.
Google Glass led the way, its hype tempered somewhat by widespread concerns over privacy issues. Smartwatches, like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear and the Pebble, are far from the finished product but offer great potential. Imagine borrowing a tablet and using your smartwatch fitted with a portable SIM to load your own personal settings and account information. When you return the tablet and the Bluetooth connection is lost, your settings are erased to keep your information private.
There are more smartwatches released onto the market every month, varying from minimalist designer pieces to more classical-looking models with features such as calling, messaging and cameras. None yet slip into the must-have category, but increased competition - surely it’s a case of if, not when the iWatch hits the shelves - will bring improved functionality and increased popularity.
Wearable technology is being woven into our clothes, too. At the moment, gimmicky uses prevail over genuine user-friendly applications. So called E-textiles have the ability for clothes to be able to react to sounds by lighting up - pretty, yes; useful, not really. But there is potential for more practical uses, such as the ability to gather body temperature, heart rate and respiration statistics from athletes as they train, or warning tired drivers if they show signs of fatigue while behind the wheel.
A world where we rely on interactive, smart electronics in our clothes, jewellery and headwear is not quite upon us yet, but wearable technology is surely one of the fastest moving trends around at the moment. The innovation and potential provided by kit such as portable SIMs make that world seem not so distant any more.