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For Travelers, How Smart Is the Smartwatch?

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the new Apple Watch on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Cupertino, Calif. Apple's new wearable device marks the company's first major entry in a new product category since the iPad's debut in 2010. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the new Apple Watch on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Cupertino, Calif. Apple’s new wearable device marks the company’s first major entry in a new product category since the iPad’s debut in 2010. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(New York Times) – Apple’s new smartwatch can track your heart rate, pay for your Chicken McNuggets and give you turn-by-turn directions by sending vibrations to your wrist. You can even buy one in 18-karat gold. The device, which will be available early next year, is the latest in slick, wearable technology, a growing category that includes Google Glass, Jawbone’s Up fitness tracker and Liquid Image’s goggle-cameras.

But are these innovations really game-changers for travelers?

On one hand it’s amusing to contemplate the promise of wearable technology, or wearables, when the travel industry is still trying to solve basic problems like how to board 300 people onto an airplane without the process devolving into a stampede. I’m reminded of the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” — the pyramid that illustrates how rudimentary physiological requirements like food and shelter must be met before we can concern ourselves with less crucial desires. If there were such a pyramid for travel, boarding a plane with Jetsons-style alacrity would come before watches and glasses that alert us to the nearest Margaritaville.

On the other hand, wearables, particularly the Apple Watch, could eventually transform the way we travel. Given that sensors on the back of the device can track your pulse rate, perhaps it might also detect if you’re becoming unruly during a flight and follow up with a zap to your wrist and a stress-reduction video?

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