Despite failing to find much of an audience until after the turn of the century, the history of wearable technology goes back to the 1970s. Mostly wrist-mounted computers of varying sophistication, the first wearables were similar in design to modern devices like the Apple Watch 2 and Samsung Gear.
In 1975, the Pulsar calculator watch was one of the most advanced pieces of technology a person could introduce to their body. It was also one of the most expensive, coming in at £1,071 when adjusted for inflation (the original cost £240). In a strangely prophetic move, a solid gold option was available for £3,163 or £14,112 today, compared to the £1,549 Hermès edition of the Apple Watch 2.
Almost ten years later, in 1984, the first wearable built specifically for gaming appeared. The Nelsonic Space Attacker Watch, a device powered by a tiny Intel microchip and built around a simple, two-button version of Space Invaders, was an early example of the kind of miniaturisation that would one day produce the iPod and other diminutive tech.
Today, wearable devices are still very much a part of the gaming industry. For example, virtual reality (VR) headsets like the HTC Vive allowed the creation of the first VR roulette experience. It’s more than a little silly, set in space with a robot dealer, but, as a proof of concept, it’s a valuable development for the casino industry.
The VR industry has the monopoly on pie-in-the-sky dreams, especially as far as innovations in sports betting are concerned. The potential exists for using VR technology to “transport” gamers to live events like Premier League games where they can watch their bets play out from the stands alongside ticket-holding fans. In theory, any event run by a casino or betting outlet could sell VR “tickets” to get gamers involved in real time.
However, the big opportunity for casino – online in particular – lies in smartwatches. The Apple Watch 2 is built around the immediacy of glance-based use; in that, they have greater potential for keeping players involved in experiences throughout the day. Put another way, phones are usually kept in pockets and behind locked screens while watches are right there on the user’s wrist.
There’s an obvious technological obstacle to be overcome (it took up to seven seconds to open an app on WatchOS 2, Apple’s last-gen operating system), as evidenced by the fact that there are only two slot machines on Apple Watch, Thunderstruck II and Double Luck Nudge, neither or which can be played for cash. However, with very little input required, simple games like slots and roulette are a natural fit for smaller devices.
Casinos based on cruise ships are pushing the envelope of wrist-mounted tech with devices like the Medallion, an electronic bracelet that can buy chips and drinks, open doors, and act as on-board ID via Bluetooth and an NFC chip. It’s a fancy, solar-powered version of Android or Apple Pay. Given that the tech helps keep players at the table longer, it’s perhaps only a matter of time before land-based casinos (especially those in hotels) adopt the system too.
As a final point, while head-mounted wearables like Google Glass are not allowed in casinos (and restaurants, cinemas, and plenty of other places), they’d be the perfect accessory for people who use a heads-up display in baccarat or roulette, a type of software that helps the player make decisions based on previous hands, bets, or spins.
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