Wearables. So hot right now.
Cartoons of the ‘70s and ‘80s introduced the concept of wearables to many of us. From the Jetson’s to Inspector Gadget, much of what seemed only science fiction a short time ago is now within reach.
Fitness oriented devices such as FitBits, and Jawbone Ups have become commonplace. Gadget geeks and fashionistas alike have been in a fervor over the launch of Google Glasses. But, few may be aware just how far the wearable market has come, and how bright its future may be.
Activity tracking (specifically fitness-oriented applications) has driven the recent mass market commercialization of wearables. Male millennials across all income levels are leading this new wave of technology gadget hounds. They, along with fitness enthusiasts, are embracing these devices. So far, these early adopters have been lured not only by the shiny and the new, but also the promise of improved athletic performance.
Interest in wearable technologies is growing. But, actual consumer spending remains limited.
As of 2013, wearables have penetrated 3% of U.S. Internet users. But, 32% of respondents would buy a wearable device once it becomes available (September 2013 poll by Survey Sampling International)
Why hasn’t adoption kept pace with interest in wearables? It’s a matter of perception. The three main consumer perceptions of wearables, which will need to be tackled, include clarifying the value proposition of such devices, pricing them so they are accessible to the majority, and ensuring user data remains private.
Significant price sensitivity is a result of existing value propositions not connecting with a wider audience.
Three main consumer perceptions of wearables must be addressed to gain mass market adoption. (Harris Interactive)
Data privacy is a significant concern for many consumers regardless of wearable technologies. Several major data breaches (Home Depot, Target, Bank of America, etc.) are still in recent memory. And, the possibility more personal data (health, fitness, sleep, mental health, etc.) might unexpectedly surface is a terrifying proposition for many consumers. As a result, erudite organizations will make data privacy a key concern in developing new products and services for the wearable market.
Despite these challenges, wearable technologies are gaining the attention of more consumers every day as the range of functionally and form factors grow.
What functionality is driving consumer interest? The wearable devices which focus on keeping consumers more informed, connected and productive have hit a chord. Current Wearable technologies focus heavily on delivering these benefits, empowering users with greater understanding of their fitness, personal diseases and illnesses, diet and nutrition, rest levels, stress and mental health.
Consumers identify two main benefits of wearable tech devices. (Harris Interactive)
Existing wearable device categories have matured in varying degrees. Smart-watches and wristbands are the most mature and have attracted major Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to the market. Companies such as Apple, Samsung, LG, Sony and Motorola recognize the potential of wearable technologies and have already entered the market (or are anticipated to do so in the near future). These companies will join start up’s already working to provide the next ‘big thing.’
In contrast to most major OEMs, many universities, government agencies and startups are looking past the smartwatch/wristband as simply an extension of the smartphone form factor. These organizations aim to deliver innovative wrist-based solutions to a plethora of other problems, including protecting us from excessive sun exposure, preventing unauthorized access to user data, and keeping tabs on our kids and pets.
Beyond the wrist, glasses appear to be the next major form factor for wearable devices. Google is leading the pack. The recent retail release of Google Glass has allowed consumers to experience a significant jump in wearable functionality not offered by previous form factors. Interest in the glasses form factor and accompanying functionality is not limited to end-consumers. Businesses want in on the action as well. GE recently partnered with Google to see how Google Glass could boost efficiency in auto factories.
But, others are already nipping at Google’s heels. Multiple other startups are seeking to achieve parallel functionality to Google Glass with increased style. These startups have benefited from increased interest from the high-end fashion industry. High-end designers such as Tory Burch and Diane von Furstenberg have partnered with wearable companies to make devices more stylish and appealing to a broader range of users.
Wearable advancements don’t stop there. New jewelry offerings include the ability to keep us safe, record the sights and sounds of our daily lives, and help the blind read. Contact lenses offer zoomable eagle-eyes or sensors to monitor our glucose levels in real time for targeted diabetes care. The same headphones delivering the latest album to our ears are also able to record our heart rate. And, other new headsets can prevent drivers from dozing off. Wearable jackets allow both hugs to be transmitted to kids far away and text messages to be sent to emergency personnel. There are shoes which can lead users through unfamiliar places. Other wearable technologies allow users the ability to monitor a babies vitals in real-time or notify users of poor posture.
Further proof of the bourgeoning interest in wearable devices is provided by the depth and breadth of pet related wearable technologies now available. Multiple companies leveraged the same functionality offered in human wearable devices to develop pet-centric offerings tapping into the huge Pet Product’s industry.
The Pet Supplies Industry is nearly $14 billion. That’s only a little over $600 million more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Iceland. (American Pet Products Association)
Owners now have the ability to track their pet’s location, activity levels and body temperatures.
The future of wearables is bright. And, more wearable options are expected.
The number of wearable devices globally is expected to grow significantly in the next four years (Cisco).
Startups, crowd funded projects and government/education led initiatives are looking to solve a wide array of issues with wearable devices. These devices promise to change consumers’ lives, from the most esoteric (a hat which moves cat-like ears in response to a user’s emotions) to the inspiring (mechanized exoskeletons for disabled individuals or injectable devices which delay/reverse aging).
Despite the expected growth of the industry, connectivity between the device and the user, or the device with other wearable devices is expected to remain limited.
Devices with embedded cellular connectivity are expected to remain small. (Cisco)
However, estimates of limited connectivity should not dissuade telecoms/network providers from entering the wearables market.
Much of the wearable growth in the short term will likely hinge on companies abilities to develop a comprehensive infrastructure of supporting applications able to seamlessly aggregate complementary user data. And, wireless technologies will be essential to support the development of this infrastructure.
Subsequent wearable success will likely rely on the same infrastructure, but be optimized to provide a more seamless experience for the user. A single image will not only provide a comprehensive and intuitive view of the captured data, but also an ecosystem to leverage the captured data into actionable insights. These insights will harmoniously encourage the user to achieve their designated goals.
As the industry continues to progress, wearable devices (including implantables and digestibles) are likely to fundamentally transform the human condition. These technologies and their supporting infrastructure will develop and distribute information which will significantly boost humanity’s physical, psychological and intellectual capabilities.