Noted Interviews: Sophie Charara

The tech space is full of creative people, exciting projects and interesting products. With Noted Interviews, we tap into the brilliant minds of the individuals behind such works, letting you know why and how they do what they do as well as giving you a better insight into who they are as people.

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Who are you and what do you do?

I am Wareable’s contributing editor, which means I write across news, reviews and features and help come up with ideas about every aspect of the site. I joined in December 2014 from Stuff, about four months after the site was launched by Paul Lamkin and James Stables. We’re aiming to become the voice of authority on wearable tech. I’m the only woman on staff so as well as writing about the Apple Watch, testing kit and explaining new tech I also cover wearables aimed at women, like smart jewellery etc. We have some brilliant female freelancers too. 

How did you get into writing about tech? What came before and what inspired you to put your thoughts down on virtual paper? 

I got into tech journalism through work experience with Stuff magazine. This lead to freelancing which lead to an internship and finally a job as a reviewer. I’m always writing - I have a deformed middle finger on my right hand to prove it - and these days I have to tear myself away from my MacBook. 

What is it about wearable tech specifically that you love? What drives you to write about this new category every day?

Precisely that. It’s a new category so as a journalist it’s much more stimulating to cover every day than device categories that have matured and reached a plateau like smartphones (my old beat). Some companies are getting things right, some are getting things wrong - right now, it’s about ideas, start-ups, crowdfunding, design. 

Interaction between humans and tech is another big factor - touch, voice, gesture - and I’m really interested in learning how designers are tackling this problem. Wareable covers any tech that relates to the connected self which includes smart home devices, another potentially huge area. 

What do you think about the state of wearables in 2015 (across platforms)?

Fitness trackers - These are very popular but they need a couple of things to move forward - increased accuracy on metrics such as optical heart rate monitoring to keep users trust, actionable insights for activity and sleep tracking in apps. 

Smartwatches - The Apple Watch is the big fish here. It’s early days but the Watch needs more third party apps that really integrate the smartwatch into our everyday lives as well as improvements to its built-in fitness tech. This is still a big reason people are forking out in 2015. 

VR - Virtual reality headsets are in pretty good shape - now we just have to be patient. The best experience I’ve had with VR so far has been with HTC and Valve’s Vive headset with Lighthouse positional tracking. Even Google Cardboard can transport you to another world, there are some really great apps and experiences available and it’s so cheap and accessible. 

Smart jewellery and clothing - Often overlooked is smart jewellery and wearables aimed at women. These often don’t have displays but what they do achieve is offering real benefits to the users - helping you to disconnect, navigate around a city, digital parenting, health and hormone monitoring, fitness tracking, and so on. 

You’ve written about everything from VR to action cams to Apple Watch. How do wearables and connected-self devices change how we live and interact with technology (for better or worse)?

We have a problem with gadget etiquette and this could become worse with smartglasses, smartwatches and essentially anything else with a screen. But with voice and haptic tech coming up, wearables and smart home gadgets could help us to rely less on screens. That’s something I’m excited about. 

"We have a problem with gadget etiquette"

Personally out of everything I’ve tried this year, VR is the most futuristic. I took the Gear VR headset home, which is actually one of the cheapest systems - and my friends and family were blown away. It’s like nothing else and it can be a gaming portal, an empathy machine, a virtual tourism device, and more.

Aside from consumer devices, wearables have a chance to make a big impact in people’s lives in health. We have a regular feature on the site called ‘Saves The Day’ about wearable tech being used for good - health, exploration, education, charity, and safety. My father actually has a pacemaker and a device in his house which sends his heart data to doctors - I joke that he’s a cyborg now but this type of remote monitoring will save lives. 

Tell me a bit about your current setup. What tools do you use to get the job done? 

My current tech set-up is a 13in (2014) MacBook Air, a (2014) Moto X and a Fujifilm X30. For testing iOS compatible wearables, I use an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and the Z3 Compact comes in handy with its amazing battery life. Oh and I also have a Dell monitor for my desk. 

As for wearables, my setup changes as I’m almost always reviewing something - there’s only so much room on my wrist! As for the useful ones that have stood the test of time, the Fitbit Charge HR, Jabra Sport Pulse and Garmin Forerunner 620 have helped me on my quest to keep running and improve my fitness. I’m testing the Pebble Time right now too and I think it’s my personal favourite of the everyday smartwatches so far - it’s not perfect but it’s just as reliable and easy to get on with as previous Pebble watches. 

As a tech enthusiast, what are your hopes for the next 12 months? How do you envisage the wearable market evolving in time?

My hopes as a tech enthusiast are for some big breakthroughs in battery technology. I often ask founders, CEOs and designers what is on their wishlist and this comes up everytime. Ideally we’d have a system such as uBeam, which allows wireless charging at a distance or smart textiles, which turn our body’s movements into energy. 

Thinking more broadly, I also hope manufacturers stop treating wearables as they would TVs, tablets or phones. We need more sizes, more customisation and more thinking around our routines such as when we might wear wearables (it doesn’t have to be 24/7) or how we charge them. 

What does the rest of 2015 hold for Sophie Charara and Wareable?

The Wareable team is growing. Our reporter Sam recently started and we are hiring an editor in the US. We’ve just launched a forum, our newsletter is being prepped as we speak and you’ll see our team of editors talking at more events and shows. We will also continue to work with the fantastic Basil Kronfli at Btekt who creates fantastic wearable tech hands on and review videos. 

As for me, I’ll be covering IFA in September and CES next January as well as working on some exciting big features and getting in touch with PRs, designers, developers, founders, students - whoever hasn’t heard of Wareable yet. 

Where can people find out more about you and your work?

Just head to Wareable.com for our mix of daily news, best ofs, in-depth features and interviews, plus reviews. We’ve also just launched a wearable tech forum for people to chat and ask advice and you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter: @wareable

Everyone from the BBC and The Times to Grazia and Metro asks us for comments, opinion pieces and features on wearable tech so chances are you might see/hear/read myself, Paul and James writing and speaking outside the site.