The wearables space is quite broad and includes everything from fitness trackers, smartwatches, augmented reality glasses, smart jewellery, smart clothes and even implants. Its all about the connected self and the use of this new technology to do things like monitor your health, to play games, to make you fitter, to save you time or to make you more organised.
The industry is still lacking a killer feature, platform or device that can rejuvenate this market. Everyone is looking to the soon to be released Apple watch to do to wearables what it did for the mobile industry.
Below are some examples of how wearables are being used today.
Wearables and media
Wearables can both be used for content creation and for content consumption. Pictures and video taken using Google glass, data gathered from fitness and health trackers or news consumed through notifications and watch apps.
Very few media companies have developed apps for smartwatches, but the soon to be released Apple watch is bound to change this with the guardian, CNN and the times having announced their pending Apple watch apps.
Push notifications are the primary smartwatch use case. The inherently personal property of a watch will require media companies to change the tone, type and quantity of push messages sent to smartwatch users. A user will have less tolerance for irrelevant or too frequent push messages disrupting them on the watch compared to their mobile phone. Media companies will have to rethink their push strategies and adapt personalised, context aware notifications that do not annoy.
The introduction of new channels for the consumption of content also highlights the need for establishing newsroom tools and processes that allow media companies to create content that can easily be packaged in different ways for different device sizes and platforms whether its for smartwatches, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, aggregator apps, mobile widgets, mobiles, tablets, desktops or TVs.
Some of the media smartwatch apps being developed
Check out the nieman lab article for a comprehensive account of the media industry and smart watches.
Wearables and medicine
Probably the most exciting use for wearables technology is in the medical industry. Devices that can help save lives by monitoring the sick or elderly, devices that can pre-empt illness by sending warning signals to the users and to health professionals. This space will really become interesting when personal health data tracked with wearable technology is combined with data from other sources like your doctor, from the food you are eating or data from your home or office environment. All of which can help empower individuals to improve their own health, help doctors to put context to examinations and help move healthcare from a mainly reactive form to a more proactive and preventative care.
Some examples of healthcare wearables are
- Google Contact lens – Smart contact lens that measure tear glucose levels that can warn diabetics when their glucose levels are too low.
- Khushi – A kickstarter project that has developed a wearable bracelet for babies to improve vaccination rates in developing countries.
- The iTBra developed by Cyrcadia Health is a wearable breast screening system that tracks cellular tissue changes.
- Neumitra – Uses wearable technology to monitor peoples stress levels throughout the day
- Microchips biotech – Release drug doses at scheduled intervals using an implant that can be wirelessly activated or deactivated by a physician or patient.
- The BodyGuardian developed my Preventice is a remote cardiac monitoring technology that allows physicians to monitor important biometric patient data and helps to maintain a constant connection between patients and their care teams.
Wearables and fitness
Fitness has been the initial driver for the consumer wearable space. Almost everything you wear when training is becoming smart; smartwatches, smart clothes, heart rate earphones, headbands and caps.
The wearable fitness products available currently in the market are suffering from stickiness, with establishing user habits. I suspect many of you who bought a fitness tracking wristband have abandoned them after a short period. How important is it for you to know how many steps you have taken every day? Gartner predicts that 50 percent of people considering buying a smart wristband will choose a Smartwatch Instead of fitness trackers.
With that said the era of personal tracking is upon is. The analysis of training routines is not just for professional athletes and their team of data analysts but for amateur fitness enthusiast looking to train smarter.
Some of the Fitness tracking devices available in the market include
- Misfit shine -fitness and sleep monitor
- Hexoskin – Smart shirt
- LG – heart rate headphones
- Addidas x-cell – Body sensor tracking quickness and heart rate
- Smartcap from Spree – Measures heart rate, temperature, movement and calories burned.
- Smartwatches – One of the main uses for buying a smartwatch is for their fitness features. Samsung gear, Garmin, moto 360, Apple watch, pepples recent kickstarter campaign generated $20 million in sales in just two weeks of the campaign.
- Fitbit – fitness tracking devices
Wearables in industry
Deskless workers are being targeted with augmented reality glasses. People who need their hands free to do particular jobs can use augmented reality glasses to access relevant information while working. The first version of the Google glass project failed to gain traction and also suffered an image problem with Google glass users being labeled ‘Glassholes’. Google are reportedly rethinking the Google glass concept based on user feedback from the first version. http://www.cnet.com/news/google-glass-eyewear-isnt-dead-eric-schmidt-confirms/
- Epson smart glasses
- Sony smart glasses
- Google Glass
- Myo from Thalmic labs – A gesture control armband.
Wearables in fashion
Smart fashion hasn’t quite hit the high streets yet and a lot of the initial offerings don’t add any real added value for users, for example clothes than change colour or cuffs and rings that vibrate when you receive a call.
- Ringly – connected rings
- Cuff – notifies you when you get a call or a text. A small sensor that can be embedded into different jewellery.
- Memi bracelet – vibrates when you receive calls
- Cutecircuit – wearable fabrics
- The Ring by logbar
Wearables and authentication
One use case that appears to solve a user problem is authentication and payment. If you can
remove the need to take your phone or keys out to start your car, open doors, pay for goods, check in at the airport. Every connected object you come into contact with would simply know that you are who you are.
If you want a glimpse of the future of wearables you only have to look at Disney lands magic wrist band.
Customers receive the magic wristband containing a small RFID chip in the post pre Disney land visit and can from the moment they arrive use it to interact with everything at disneyland removing a lot of the hassle associated with payment, signing in, queuing while delivering a personalised experience for each visitor. Check out wired account of the disney land experience.
- If you want to look at a more extreme example check out the Swedish Biohacking group who has implanted chips under their skin. They can open doors and use the photocopying machine using the RFID chip implanted under their skin.
- Nymi band – Measures EKG to uniquely identify users. Seamlessly unlock devices, remember passwords and more, using your heart’s unique signature.
Obstacles for Wearables
- Closed API’s – The real value of the data collected from wearables will come when data from multiple sources are aggregated and analysed. At the moment there are a limited amount of companies offering open API’s for accessing data gathered through wearable devices.
- Battery life – A major obstacle for wearables at the moment is battery life. The introduction of wireless charging and charging via kinetics will help drastically. The challenges faced by Smartwatch manufactures include balancing the sensor and media rich feature set with the current level of battery life.
- Tolerate physical abuse – A lot of wearables are worn when undertaking physical activity. Many of todays wearables are not robust enough to tolerate these conditions. Your wrist for example is much more exposed to physical and chemical contact than a device in you pocket
- Lost habits – Smartwatch manufactures must also convince a generation of people who have never worn a watch to start wearing a watch. The majority of smartwatches today also act as an extension to your phone, requiring you to carry your phone with you to do anything useful with your watch. So the watch is merely removing the need to take your phone out of your pocket. Smart watches will truly become smart when they are autonomous always connected devices, removing the need to carry your phone.
Its still early days when it comes to wearable technology. The emergence of new and cheaper chipsets, developer SDKs, open APIs, improved device aesthetics, improved battery life and the entry of market leaders like Apple will also help move the industry from early adaptors and into the mass market. The industry is still waiting for compelling use cases to move wearables beyond the current nice to have range of gadgets to more need to have devices.