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Smart watches: coming soon to a wrist near you

Hi-tech timepieces are on the horizon but do we need them?

Pebble smart watches

Rumours of an Apple iWatch are echoing around the internet, and it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if one materialises this year. Wearable computers are about to become big business, and Apple needs an innovative product to follow the iPad and capture punters' hearts - and wallets. See also: Apple iWatch to lead 500m wearable computing rush

Apple iWatch mock-up

Tech watches have come and gone over the last few years, with the Pebble being the talk of CES a few months back and Microsoft's SPOT - Smart Personal Objects Technology - largely being a failure, so far. There are also other KickStarter projects such as the LinkMe, a 'Smart Wrist Billboard'. See: Apple testing smart watch designs, iWatch.

Smart watches essentially offer a convenient extra display for things such as text messages, incoming call notifications and more. Some offer extra features such as controlling music playback from another mobile device, as well as integrating sensors for activity tracking, and even heart-rate monitors (LG's latest Smart Activity Tracker - not strictly a smart watch - has one).

Smart watches are really only companions for smartphones, being ill-suited to anything much more than displaying information, unless you could use voice recognition to quickly dictate and fire off a reply to a message, or use a wireless headset to answer or make calls.

But do we really need another device to add to our already burgeoning collection of PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone? Some would argue you do, as it's all too easy to miss calls and important emails or text messages in noisy environments, or when your phone's inadvertently been left in silent mode. A subtle vibration or merely the display turning on would be enough to tell you something requires your attention.

Nike Fuelband

Plus, it's hard to argue with the wow factor. I've been wearing a Nike Fuelband for four months and the simple LED display has never failed to elicit a stunned response from onlookers when I light it up. The Pebble's E-Paper screen is probably more impressive, remaining sharp and readable even in bright sunlight - just like an eReader.

If you tend to be glued to your Twitter and Facebook feeds, a smart watch will likely appeal. If Apple's fabled iWatch is a hit, you can bet that just about every other electronics manufacturer will be falling over themselves to produce one. Some have been bolder than others, with Sony's imaginatively named Smart Watch already on sale for £89 and serving up notifications from Android devices from its 1.25in OLED display.

Sony Smart Watch

Whether people will be willing to stump up £200 for a wearable iOS device remains to be seen. But if Apple and other makers also integrate fitness functions - à la Fuelband and Fitbit - then smart watches could well be the next big tech gadget.

What do you think about smart watches? Would you buy one? Which features would it need to have? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

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