Mobile technology has revolutionized our lives. The amount of sensors embedded in smartphones and tablets — from GPS to accelerometers and microphones — is changing the way people interact with the physical world.
But at the end of the day, we’re still stuck looking down at a smartphone screen.
Wearable technology can change that; the following are three different areas of wearable technology that will alter the way we think of consumer electronics.
Aside from luxury wristwatches like those from Rolex and Tourneau, much of wristwear innovation for everyday people seemed to end with the introduction of calculator watches in the 1970s and ’80s. But now in 2013, we’re seeing a new breed of smart watches and fitness wristbands entering the market that shows a lot of promise.
Pebble, a smart watch that began as a Kickstarter project, has hit the market to good reviews from sites like The Verge. The Pebble has its own apps, which will make it possible to use services like RunKeeper or check caller ID, and you can also receive notifications on the watch.
The growth potential for watches like the Pebble and fitness wristbands like Nike FuelBand and Fitbit is huge. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that among the 67% of Americans who track health for loved ones, only 20% use technology to do so. As smart fitness wristwear becomes easier to use, expect to see health tracking to increase.
Google’s Project Glass has gotten a lot of attention for potentially bringing wearable augmented reality to consumers, but the real story lies in popularizing wearable cameras. Early reports on the Glass interface say that taking photos and shooting video are central to the experience. While augmented reality features will be important to the long-term success of Glass, taking and sharing photos/videos will probably drive a lot of the initial consumer interest.
The success of wearable cameras won’t hinge on Google’s efforts in the space. For example, GoPro, a wearable camera marketed to action sports enthusiasts, has sold 3 million units over the past 3 years, and the action cam category in the United States alone is expected to grow to around $500 million in 2013 according to the Financial Times.
The most far-out space within wearable technology is smart textiles. By using conductive thread and embeddable sensors in clothing, a whole new category of innovation has been invented..
The earliest adopter of smart textile technology is the sports industry. Athletes are now wearing clothing using materials like Cellient and Energear that capture heat from the athlete’s body and feed that energy back to the athlete.
Consumer application of smart textiles sounds a bit less like science fiction. Companies like Rest Devices are exploring ways to make smart clothing applicable to everyday consumers through new apparel. One prototype piece of clothing from Rest is the Peeko Infant Monitor, a smart onesie for infants that detects their sleep patterns and overall sleep quality. The onesie sends the data to a cloud back-end that can display analytics on the baby to the parents’ smartphones.
For brands, the applications of these technologies may seem difficult to grasp. In the smart wristwear space, companies like Kiip are already rewarding users of fitness apps for reaching milestones like breaking personal records. Within the next couple of years, smart wristbands will play an important role in expanding the use of fitness apps, and brands can find new ways to reach health and fitness consumers at the point of achievement.
Wearable cameras have high long-term potential, but in the short-term will normalize the consumer behavior of passive video recording, leading to growth in video sharing and presenting new ways of producing creative assets.
Smart textiles will be a technology that pharmaceutical and fitness companies look to as a potential early signal for detecting health problems. For example, a system like Peeko could not only notify parents that their child is sick, but also recommend the nearest Walgreen’s with fever medication or the nearest doctor in their health insurance network.
Though the last 5 years were spent wondering why anyone would need a watch when they could just look at their phone, the next 5 years may be spent wondering why anyone would still want to take out their phone all the time.