Handheld Technology

How is Wearable Tech Progressing?

There are a lot of joggers along the Thames near to where I live. These normally emerge with the sunshine and come in many guises. Yet a particular hazard of the west London location is numerous, rather daring examples, of the latest kit. The most ludicrous specimen of this type caught my attention recently in a shape of a middle aged gentleman decked out in fully matching green vest ‘n’ shorts combo, neatly accessorised with a gloriously outsized smartwatch. 

The analysts at Beecham Research forecast that the wearable tech market is currently on course to be worth $3 billion by 2018. However, the firm believes that if the market can take a true ‘multidisciplinary’ approach, it could be worth more than three times that, at $9.3 billion. And the main answer? Collaborations with fashion.

In fact, its latest report is co-authored between fashion tech analyst, Claire Duke-Wooley and principal analyst, Saverio Romeo and takes the view that “tech alone” will not drive the success of these devices. 

“We don’t like buying things that people tell us we need,” says Duke-Wooley. We buy things because we like the design of them. This is innate within consumers and something that the fashion industry understands really well. She believes in the future, technology companies will need to collaborate with fashion companies at the conception stage in order to create something that works really well in the marketplace. Naturally the example of the iPhone, a beautiful piece of design that nobody knew they wanted till they had it, is raised.

Nigel Beighton, VP of Technology at Rackspace, agrees: “Fashion is an important element that is being missed at the moment in the wearable market. People don’t wear glasses anymore because contacts are more fashionable, and watches have been replaced with mobiles that fit the pocket rather than on our wrist. Simply put, you can give me all the communication in the world, but if it does not look good I am not going to use it”.

There is some evidence this trend is gradually starting to place. Beecham research points to the new Withings Activité smartwatch, which blends Swiss watchmaking with Parisian design.  Then there is Ringly smart jewellery, which doesn’t look like it contains any technology at all. This is on top of all the developments in smart clothing and textiles, led by companies like CuteCircuit, Wearable Experiments and Studio XO. Yet as Beecham points out in the press release, this has still not moved “beyond the couture end of the market”.

Saverio Romeo stresses wearable tech is part of the Internet of Everything. This itself has many associated tech hurdles and Beighton lists the following areas that need to be addressed “for wearables to be the success that everyone wants them to be”:

“Our networks are already highly congested, so much so that even mobile phones struggle to get 3G or 4G everywhere. [On top of this] the internet wasn’t built for millions of things to be mobile and connected, so adding 1000-fold more devices is going to be incredibly challenging. It will happen as the infrastructure gets better but it’s not one year away, it is more likely to be five, maybe ten years”.

“Wearable technology has a high dependence on cloud services and it needs more communication than we currently have on mobile phones,” he continues. “If I walked into a room with Google Glass, I would want it to tell me who everyone is and where we’ve met before, and it is the cloud that will power the big data stores that we need”.

“[These devices] are only as good as the power behind them, and battery power is a clear limitation at the moment. Consumers find it a nuisance having to charge a device overnight in order to use it. So having a battery that can last much longer will certainly help the uptake of wearable devices”.

Romeo of Beecham however, feels the two big limitations that currently exist are not so much technological as social. Firstly, “there is a strong focus on tech” when these are “people focused” devices.

Secondly, many ideas come out of innovative new startups. The problem with this is that these are “technology focused” individuals and many are “completely cut away” from other pragmatic concerns such as: the beauty of the devices, branding these items and coming up with a usable business plan. Many startups “assume people will buy them because of the coolness of the tech,” however “wearables are not only technology devices”.

Romeo feels if these issues are addressed, the business potential for wearables across both B2B and B2C is enormous, far beyond the core areas of fitness and wellness that we feel at the moment.

Beighton of Rackspace also agrees that: “The day of mass market adoption of wearable technology will come, and the world will be a very different place, but not in the next 12 months. In fact, we are likely to only see a handful of the wearable products that will be with us for at least the next three years”.

“[Today] everyone is jumping on the wearable health market bandwagon as there is a lot of potential in this sector,” he continues. “However, in the next 12 months alone, anything beyond counting calories or steps is unlikely. There will be progress made in the health market for wearable technology, but issues such as liability will cause setbacks. It could even be a matter of life and death for some people and we will therefore see slow, and considered, progress”.

The analysts at Beecham research highlight the major divide between B2B and B2C uses for wearable tech. Yet Duke-Woolley feels style is important across the board, even areas like healthcare. In fact she has found from talking to a number of medical companies that many “have struggled to get any adoption if the devices are obtrusive”.

The path to true wearable tech adoption should be an interesting one to observe. There could be a lot of amusing tech fashion mistakes along the way. And it looks like it might be rather a long time before we get anywhere truly useful.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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