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Wireless Technologies

Wearable Tech Show: Wearables get a reality check?

Has the sheen of wearables rubbed off?

Although it was much bigger than last year’s conference, London’s Wearable Tech Show struck a different tone for 2016. Even John Weir, the COO of the WTS, alluded to the fact wearables were now descending down into the “Trough of Disillusionment” on Gartner’s infamous emerging technologies Hype Cycle.

Where other conferences this week got Fossil’s new smartwatches or a close up of Sony’s Playstation VR, the best this year’s WTS show got was TomToms’ new Golfing watch. Smartwatches were notable for their almost complete absence from the show - no Withings, Martian, Burg or Cognito this year - but there was however a bigger focus on AR/VR and the Internet of Things, including a decent showing of AR glasses from the likes of Epson, Vuzix and Sony. There were far more sport-related and smart garments, plus oddities such as the musical tampon for pregnant women and a Scalextric track where you controlled the cars with your brain.

Optimism makes way for realism

Last year there was a decidedly more upbeat tone – predictions of a billion AR devices by 2020 were noticeably absent for 2016. Even the talk about driverless cars was careful in predicting when they would become mainstream.

“A more realist view is necessary,” said Beecham’s Principal Analyst Saverio Romeo. He said he disagreed with predictions of 50 billion IoT device by 2020, and although the industry as a whole is growing at a rapid pace, a high startup deathrate of up to 90% is due to unrealistic hype. Only once the realist standpoint is adopted can we start to see the real potential of wearables and the IoT emerging – especially within the manufacturing, transportation and smart city space.

“There isn’t a single wearables market,” said Michael Hobbs of Accenture’s Mobility Group. Instead he suggested there are three distinct markets: the business-based – any work-mandated device that could improve safety or efficiency for example – which could have “a profound impact on the way we work,” once there is an evident use case: The “supplied for a purpose” –  for example devices supplied by medical or insurance companies – which will improve health outcomes for the former and enable precision-priced risk for the later: and what he calls the consumer “I bought this” market.

“The mass market is ripe for innovation and consolidation,” he said. “But is it truly a substantial market like smartphones?” Hobbs – a self-described optimist over wearables – suggested it could, but only if certain impediments were removed. Aside from innovations around bio-motion charging, the biggest issue is still how wearables look. “Aesthetics is no.1,” he said, adding that traditional watch companies still have the edge in this area and are very good at translating this into long-term emotional investment. “Once someone is psychologically invested in a product, they won’t abandon them.”  

The future

But in the place of unbridled optimism were more grounded talks about the immediate future of the industry and what needs to change to facilitate success. As is usually the case, there were repeated calls for better security, both in wearables and the wider IoT space in which they sit.

“Security is still an afterthought sprinkled over the top – some vendors don’t care as much as they should,” said Symantec Threat Researcher Candid Wueest, adding that consumers won’t care until it affects something like a pacemaker or their car, but this is something enterprises find more important. 

Terri Smith, CEO of DigiSEq warned security, standards and fragmentation “need to be thought of seriously” if mobile payments are ever going to take off probably for wearables, especially if predictions about hundreds of millions of dollars being spent through them are ever going to come true. 

Brian Witten, another speaker from Symantec, said there was no excuse not to secure even the smallest parts of the IoT since even 8-bit controllers can be encrypted but part of the problem is lack of awareness on both the sides of the hardware manufactures and the security companies not used to working within such constraints. He added that it just “makes good business sense” to make sure your products are secure.

However, it wasn’t not all doom and gloom and there was still plenty of hope from the speakers about the potentials opportunities for wearable tech.

Health-based wearables, especially ones that let you really make use of the data and what it means, were cited repeatedly as potential growers, something reinforced by the news that sales of health monitoring wearables are set to triple over the next four years.

While dismissing hearables in short term, Corey Rosemond of Plantronics suggest that wearables which track your mindfulness could see some success; people who are physically fit but “an emotional wreck” could be interested in devices that help monitor and reduce stress levels.

Mark Bernstein, CEO of Wearable Technologies, suggest there was a “colossal opportunity” for smart garments and the connected worker, but in the consumer space the costs were still too high and companies still need to consider who and where it is sold in ships.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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