I’m pretty confident in the future of wearable technology — at least the right wearable technology. I’ll be expanding on this on the Beeb later today, but here’s my recipe for what will be successful.
We all know that technological capability is no recipe for guaranteed success. But it’s certainly part of the equation. The first thing wearable technologies have to do is find strong applications.
Let’s be clear about what we mean by ‘strong’ though: the benefit has to be proportional to the additional cost over and above non-smart alternatives, whether the additional smartness is built into tech or clothing/accessories, and assuming all other factors are equal. Adding vast numbers of features to try to skew this equation (I’m looking at you Samsung Galaxy Gear) will not work. Adding too many features actually makes the device LESS functional by complicating the user interface and bulking out the design.
I think LG has the right idea with its Heart Rate Earphones that add useful fitness tracking functions to a device you might be using while exercising anyway. As long as the cost is within a sensible margin of headphones without that tech, and they function well as headphones (and of course look good), then I think devices like this will be appealing.
What I believe will be successful will be simple, one or two function devices, that look attractive (below) and have a very simple, natural, almost invisible user interface.
Technology is increasingly invisible. Between its small size and more human user interface design, it is less and less obvious when something is a piece of technology as we used to think of it. Go back forty years and computers were hulking machines that needed you to speak their language. Now we stroke tiny devices and they respond to our touch, command and even hand gestures. It’s not a massive leap to see technology just disappearing as a discrete thing altogether and becoming part of the fabric of the world around us.
When it does so, the function will be increasingly expected and the differentiation will be design. Sound like any industry you know? Fashion.
Brand and aesthetics are incredibly important in wearable tech. As I talked about in my roundup from the closest thing Europe has to CES, IFA, last year, some companies really get this. If they’re not partnering up with well recognised style brands, they are employing designers from that world and working hard to give their brands greater appeal.
Ultimately the ubiquitous success of wearables will come when they become normal. When doing the things that only wearables can do becomes expected.
Health monitoring is the first good example of an application that might become expected. It may seem a little bit big brother, but collecting and sharing data about our wellbeing might be in all our interests, as taxpayers and as individuals.
Most people are interested in prolonging their (healthy) lives. At the moment the way we do this — reactively, dealing with acute situations — is expensive and far from ideal. We would all live longer, healthier lives if we could make smaller interventions when problems first become apparent through the data. And the NHS could probably be a lot cheaper.
Ultimately wearable technology stops being technology and it becomes fashion. Just like we expect fashion to incorporate technologies like zips and waterproofing, we will come to expect it to include digital technologies that capture information about us and our environments. There will be a few more flops along the way, but for me the rise of wearable technology is inevitable.