Handheld Technology

Advice on making wearables, from people who make wearables

Unimpressed by what you see in the wearable tech space? Got an idea and think you can do better, but don’t know what to do about it? This year’s Wearable Technology Show featured various discussions on how startups can enter the wearables space, so we’ve rounded some of it up into one place.

Making a business succeed

Glofaster CEO Simon Weatherall is a great example of how to enter the tech space without actually having much in the way of experience or expertise in the field. A former Marine and fitness trainer, Weatherall started with an idea for a light-up jacket, made one at home, pulled apart a stereo and incorporated that to add sound, and built it up step-by-step. He started from scratch, has been on Dragon’s Den and is now selling his smart fitness jackets in Harrods.

Weatherall highlights the importance of networking – making contacts and pulling the right people together to create the right combo can save you doing everything in house.

Ande Gregson, founder of FabLab London advocates the mantra of: “Fail fast, fail quickly, fail often.” Your first idea won’t be the best, so don’t worry about making a lot of small changes often in the early days. He also echoes Weatheralls advice about contacts; “If you have an idea for a wearable, you can make it or find someone with a soldering iron who will.”

Gregson believes that to make a good device you make it small, make it natural, make it work like a normal item, and warns against wearables that are “solutions trying to find a problem”. Weatherall also highlights the value of knowing your audience – build something desirable rather than trying to create a market, he says, while the best way to test a market is to “build 10 with superglue and try to sell them to your friends for £10”.

Creating workable wearables

Josh Valman, founder of RPD International, says that wearables need to be passive in the way we use and interact with them; using keys as an example, he explains that we don’t think about keys, we just know we need them, and successful wearables should be the same.

Nick Hunn of wireless consultancy Wifore advises startups that while deploying the likes of Arduino and Raspberry Pi within your wearables might be fine in the short term – especially if you’re doing short runs on crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter – any business which makes them a core part will fail in the long run. Weatherall’s Glofaster used Arduino in the early days but developed its own alternative as soon as it could.

In terms of power consumption, wearables bring a whole new set of requirements to the table. Tim Saxe, CTO at Quicklogic warns that despite many wearables carrying a range of sensors, few devices have the necessary “battery budget,” especially when few people will want to charge their devices every day.

Saxe also explains that different features of wearables need different levels of accuracy. Gesture controls need to be as accurate as possible with low latency, but GPS and pedometers can afford a higher margin of error – people won’t mind so much if their wearable hasn’t measured exactly how many steps they’ve taken but won’t use a device if the gesture controls don’t work. Saxe also advises using generic software where possible and custom hardcoding to save on power, and being smart about what you do with sensors; for example if the person isn’t moving, turn the GPS off.

Using wearables in the enterprise

BlackBerry may have jumped from the enterprise into the hands of consumers, but wearables are more likely to go in the opposite direction; Google Glass has come under a lot of flak in the public space but is still doing well in the enterprise space. RPD International’s Valman predicts that the enterprise will drive wearable tech, a thought that many others echo throughout the conference.

Steve Reynolds of TBS Enterprise Mobility thinks that aesthetics won’t matter so much to enterprise customers - “People don’t want to wear it down the street” - whereas consumer wearables need to appeal to the mass market. In the enterprise, one use case is enough – Ian Finch of Intoware suggests a scenario where, if a retail assistant can check a watch app to see if an item is in stock in front of a customer, that’s a good example of real ROI. Other scenarios include the way field workers can take photos of problems to get live feedback from elsewhere and facial recognition software which provide notifications to hospitality or security staff.

Using wearables as proximity tools – clocking in, bringing up relevant data depending on where a user is or biometric security – is also suggested as a viable use case. When questioned over the idea of privacy in these situations, we’re told smartphones have, on the whole, culturally prepared people for wearable technology but the ability to manage wearables - such as turning off trackers once a user has finished work so they have privacy – is an important aspect.

Finch warns that wearables are “not a panacea”, but a useful tool for solving unique problems that phones can’t, and it’s up to companies to go out there and find the opportunity themselves.


More from IDG Connect at this year’s Wearable Technology Show:

Wearable Tech Show: Optimism, gadgets and potential

Muse: A stylish brain tech challenger

Wearable Tech Show: Augmented optimism?

Listicle: Top ten of Wearable Tech Show London


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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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