Wearable technology does pretty much what it says on the tin. Whether you want to measure your blood pressure or sun exposure, answer phone calls while skiing, or charge up your phone with your handbag, someone somewhere will have developed an answer for you.
|Not my photo|
But why do we want wearable devices, if indeed we do? Well, first of all, however smart our phones might be, they still fail to provide everything we might want them to. Wearable technology promises to do things a smartphone could do, but more conveniently. Take, for example, the Recon Snow – a set of skiing goggles which can measure your speed and altitude, take pictures, and connect via Bluetooth to your phone so you can play music and read your texts while speeding down the slopes. Quite simply, if you tried to do that on your smartphone you would most likely break yourself, or your phone, or both.
Secondly, wearable devices often respond more quickly. Rather than trying to give you all the information about everything everywhere, they focus on one specific aspect of your being, such as your heart rate. This means they will often have the information before you even think about checking it. It has been said that we humans are inclined to give up on any machine that takes longer than 2 seconds to respond, with Generation Z displaying an average attention span of just 8 seconds. Instead of having to spend the tens of seconds we currently do unlocking our phone (which, apparently, smartphone users do 100 times a day on average) finding the app we want etc etc etc, a wearable device will be constantly monitoring whatever it is we want to know about and have that information readily available, at the mere click of a button.
And thirdly – and perhaps the silliest reason –consumers can now rationalise their shiny new devices under the pretext of improving their health, fitness, or general quality of life.
|The Recon Snow - Not my photo|
For those of you reading this thinking “well I think it’s a load of rubbish, no one will ever buy this stuff”, I have to tell you that, in fact, the forecasts are rather good for wearables at the moment. The UK wearable tech market is set to grow 41.8% year-on-year for the next 5 years, with the European market expected to see growth from $308.69m in 2013 to $2.5bn in 2019. Which is bonkers! Amazon seem to think there’s something in it too, as they’ve recently opened their new wearable technology store selling more than 100 new products. There were a huge range of wearable devices at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show and smartwatches were given away at Google I/O. Some people are even saying that the “wearable revolution” could happen much more quickly than the mobile revolution before it.
|Smartwatches or Sillywatches? You decide. - Not my photo|
So why is wearable tech doing so well? Well, currently wearable technology is still reasonably niche, with few companies dominating the market. What’s more, many of these companies are small start-ups, not the global players we know so well. Certain types of sophisticated hardware (such as sensors and chip sets) are becoming cheaper and thereby more accessible for smaller companies. These companies also don’t need to worry about providing a solid Internet service – as long as the wearable device has a Bluetooth connection, it can hijack the internet provided by the smartphone. Ingenious stuff. The rise of crowdfunding has only boosted this progress further with over $100m being invested in wearable technology through sites such as Kickstarter. A sign many people take as evidence of wearable tech’s potential.
There are, however, still a number of problems and drawbacks to be addressed. Most importantly, there is currently no evidence that wearable devices are being bought in significant numbers. With many major tech companies hurrying to jump on the bandwagon, the bandwagon has got prematurely crowded full of smartwatches, most aiming, essentially, to act as smartphones you can wear on your wrist. This may be the wrong strategy; wearable technology is supposed to simpler than a smartphone, not merely smaller.
It has also been pointed out – rightly or wrongly – that any device that is marketed as wearable ought to be appealing to women. Although I shudder slightly at the idea that women are mostly interested in things you can wear, it is true that there is often a misconception about the relationship between women and technology that ought to be considered. It has been shown that women are more likely than men to buy tablets, laptops and smartphones and, according to a 2012 study, women also use internet-connected devices more than their male counterparts. Moreover, when it comes to accessories, women are far more likely to wear devices beyond the eye-wear and wrist-wear bracket, such as necklaces or rings. This would all suggest that if you wish to sell your wearable device most effectively, it is in your best interest to consider what will appeal to women.
|Not my photo|
Which brings us, somewhat controversially, to the biggest flaw in current wearable tech: design. There are those who say that too many of the wearable devices available are too “masculine” in design. Whatever one’s opinion of that idea, it is true that design does not seem to have been a topmost priority for many wearable devices. Which is a grave mistake when you are trying to sell things people are supposed to wear. Sonny Vu of Misfit Wearables has said that wearable devices “need to be either gorgeous or invisible” and I quite agree. Not only this, but they must be varied or customisable enough so that the customer feels they are buying something unique, rather than making a (potentially-obnoxious) statement.
So, wearable devices need to be elegant, useful, and appealing. If that happens, who knows what they could contribute to our lifestyles, if not, they may well end up on the scrap heap again. Tune in next week for a better idea of what wearable tech is actually used for!
|Fyodor Golan Phone Dress - Not my photo|