Standalone wearables coming this year, AT&T executive says

Wearables won't break through until they can work without a phone, partnership chief Glenn Lurie said

The most successful wearable devices will be ones that can work without a phone, and AT&T will have at least one of them by the end of this year, the man who manages the carrier's partnerships said.

"It needs to be an independent device. It needs to do something different for the end user, for people to buy it en masse," said Glenn Lurie, AT&T's president of emerging enterprises and partnerships.

A likely place to start could be wearables for wellness, such as a device that knows when your workout's begun, holds your music, and lets you post information about your performance to social networks, he said. "I think you'll see devices like that this year," Lurie said.

The hottest devices will be able to work both on their own and with a phone, Lurie said. They'll also have to be simple to use, a bar that no wearable has crossed yet, he said.

Once wearables start talking to LTE on their own, the sky's the limit of what consumers will take with them, Lurie said. "Just like tablets, it's going to all of a sudden explode."

Cars will be another hot category of connected devices, with natural-language commands letting drivers do many things, he said.

"We believe technology in a car can make the car not only a safer place, but a place where you can do everything you can do today with your smartphone in your hand," Lurie said. But there are hurdles left to be crossed: Cars will need to be able to talk to both Android and iOS phones without those phones coming out of the driver's pocket. And as cars age through several generations of mobile technology, their software will have to be upgradable over the air. "The car is going to become a smartphone with four wheels."

Lurie has overseen AT&T's new businesses and partnerships for years, going back to the carrier's blockbuster deal to carry the Apple iPhone exclusively for five years. Speaking before the audience at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, he wasn't giving away any secrets about what manufacturers are showing off to AT&T.

"The things I'm seeing are pretty darn exciting," Lurie said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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