Historically sophisticated wearable technology has belonged to the realm of science fiction. However, its reality has been sneaking up on us since the digital boom. With the recent launch of Google’s smartwatch, wearable technology is high on the agenda for businesses this year.
Wearable technology refers to an electronic device that is small, compact and devised specifically for wearability. Interestingly, the genesis of wearable technology can be traced back to the 60s, when hidden computing devices were worn on the body and in shoes to cheat at Roulette and Blackjack in the casinos. In the 70s, we saw a more transparent technology arise with the advent of the Sony walkman – a tape recorder that could be clipped onto clothing – and, in the 80s, calculator wristwatches came to be. In the 90s, many years after he pioneereda clunkier version that required a backpack computer, Steve Man finally engineered a wireless webcam. By the new millennium, we welcomed Bluetooth devices for our mobile phones.
Despite its history, wearable technology has moved on from its one- dimensional capabilities and refers to something more sophisticated today. With computers and mobile devices becoming smaller and/or more advanced in their functionalities, the technology now performs a number of intricate functions. Including, the analysis and processing of information and the delivery of this information back to the user in a beneficial way. If future predictions of wearable technology are right, this is just the beginning.
This summer, in Silicon Valley, wearable technology is on everybody’s mind. All the
big technology companies want a piece of the revenue pie. To date, it’s estimated that around $50 billion has been invested into wearable technology, with predictions that sales will experience a huge surge over the next few years. In an article published on the Business Review Weekly, journalist, Nate Cochrane wrote, “On some estimates, 50 million wearable devices will be sold this year, quadrupling in annual shipments within three years. Last October, analyst Juniper estimated the sector would be worth $US19 billion on 130 million shipments by 2018 from $US1.4 billion last year.”
However, it’s not just the big brands racing to be part of the wearable technology boom. A number of Australian start ups are keenly innovating the technology and funding it using crowdfunding platforms. Working creatively in the field, and no doubt raising a few eyebrows, Australian start up, Wearable Experiments, has pioneered what it’s calling “fundawear”. The underwear was created with the objective of keeping couples literally “in touch”. Sensors are incorporated into the underwear that stimulate vibrations when controlled by a mobile device. There’s no doubt that wearable technology is adding a fresh dimension to recreation, as well as fashion, sport and health.
Technology experts predict that for customers to really engage with wearable technology,
it not only needs to be functional, it needs to look good. On trend, technology juggernauts are recruiting fashion experts to stylise their products. Recently, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, former Burberry CEO, to head up retail. Ahrendts was responsible for reinvigorating the Burberry brand. As a company already renowned for making beautiful technology, Apple, obviously knows the importance of aesthetics when it comes to wearables.
While rumours of the iWatch have been circulating for a while now, fresh reports indicate that Apple will launch a smartwatch later this year. Like the Google smartwatch,Android Wear, Apple’s iWatch is likely to collect health data as well as act as a companion to one’s smartphone. The iWatch would offer email and text alerts along with the streaming of data it thinks the user might like, such as footy scores or flight times. While some wearable technology devices are already present in the marketplace, including mood bracelets and telepathy devices (that allow users to share audio with others), many businesses are set to follow in the trend of fashionable wearable technology. Ecological wearables, including, fashion apparel with inbuilt solar panels that absorb the suns energy and allow users to recharge mobile phones, are currently being tested for market viability.
As sports brand Nike wind down their production of NikeFuel, the popular wristband that tracks users’ physical activity and sets goals, many are claiming this type of technology has saturated the sports market. Alternating reports indicate that Nike’s decision is more aligned with its close relationship with Apple, and that NikeFuel will be incorporated into Apple’s upcoming smartwatch. Suffice to say, while products such as FitBit, which also tracks the users sleeping patterns, has emerged as a market leader in this area, there does appear to be a trend to move away from dedicated fitness devices to an integration of these components into smartwatches.
Meanwhile, Australian start up, Smash Wearables, has created a device called Smash specific to tennis players. As a lightweight sports band, the device offers analysis on one’s tennis game, provides advice and tips on improving technique and helps set milestones for users. It’s interesting to note that most sports devices employ an element of gamification in their devices, which is used to motivate and reward users to reach their goals.
Wearable medical solutions are on the verge of something big. At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, LG Electronics, Sony and Garmin all showcased devices that could track a person’s heart rate, blood pressure and even oxygen levels. However, for medical devices to succeed they need to shift the paradigm from consumer goods to regulated health devices that can stream information and offer backend support. Right now, the technology isn’t sophisticated enough to do this, which is probably why in May this year, Samsung called for start ups to join them in innovating new wearable health solutions. Investing $50 million into their Samsung Digital Health Challenge, Samsung is hoping to create a reliable medical device that uses non- invasive sensors to collect intricate health data.
In the future, we’re likely to see sensor-laden devices attached to the skin that will monitor the user’s vital signs with in-built capabilities to dispense medicine accordingly. Moreover, as if straight from a science fiction novel, companies are working on producing electronic skin. This skin could provide people who use prosthetics with the ability to sense objects. We can certainly expect some exciting developments from the medical arena in
the short and long-term future of wearable technology.
At the Wearable Tech Award at SXSW this year, Skully Helmets was awarded winning status for its augmented-reality motorcycle helmet. Sounding somewhat futuristic, this innovative business created a helmet that provides drivers with a 180-degree rear view camera. The images are projected transparently onto the driver’s visor, enabling the driver to see in every direction, without turning his or her head. Furthermore, the CSIRO is currently working on wearable technology that will capture energy and store it in clothing and backpacks so that users can charge electronic devices, for example, when camping.
While there’s a lot of buzz around wearable technology at the moment, certain devices have attracted some criticism. Including LG Electronics’ KizON, a wristband with inbuilt GPS tracking that monitors children’s whereabouts. For some parents this device might be a comforting thought. However, critics question whether the device actually offers children safety, given the wristband can be removed, albeit not easily. Secondly, there’s a psychological element to consider here. Does the device make a child feel that the world is inherently malevolent? Could this have a negative impact on the child later on? Some are comparing the device to a ‘Big Brother’ style world where watchful eyes are prying twenty- four seven.
Another criticism of wearable technology is its hyper-connectivity. In June earlier this year, The Age journalist, Steve Kovach, trialed Google’s smartwatch for a day. Kovach was overwhelmed by the experiment, “This isn’t the answer. Instead of solving the problem of whipping my phone out several times a day, Android Wear makes me nervous and anxious from all this hyper-connectivity.” The truth is, hyper-connectivity or not, wearable technology is not going to fade away any time soon. In fact, the technology is only now starting to gain some real momentum.
In the foreseeable future, there’ll definitely be an emphasis on combining aesthetics and functionalities, so that one device offers more capabilities. In the medical arena, wearable technology is likely to revolutionise medical practices and we’ll see some major break throughs in the years to come. At the end of the day, whether you’re a fan of wearable technology or not, we still have the choice to be selective about how we engage technology. After all, with the simple click of a switch, and a few more switches, silence and peace abounds.
Originally published in the Touch Magazine. https://www.touchcorp.com/merchants/marketing-tools-resources/touch-magazine