The Future of Wearable Technology

wearable-technologyI have really been interested in this subject for a couple of years. Like everyone else I have been keeping an eye on Google Glass, but frankly never took it all that seriously because there is just no way I would wear that thing. However I have been researching some other options which all seem to be related to fitness, specifically FitBit, Nike’s Fuel Band, and Jawbone’s Up and the other outlier Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. I think that most people would look at that list and ask why all those are lumped together as they all do very different actions. However my focus here is point why some will be more successful than others while all being wearable devices. The reason I listed the fitness related options is because they are all very common and widely used today. Many arguments can be made as to why, but I would say the fact that they do a simple task well and they also fit right along side of the current trends in fashion. For example Nike’s Fuel Band looks almost exactly like the old LiveStrong Bands that it seemed like everyone was wearing just a couple of years ago. By that same vein, I think that is exactly why the Samsung Galaxy will fail. However this isn’t a new revolution, you can find countless reviews that all point out that the thing looks odd. But I think it more than that. I think that it was just as big of a mistake by Samsung to try fit all the functionality people expect from a Smart Phone into a watch. So what you end up with is an odd looking watch that does some things that a Smart Phone does, just not quiet as well. I think that the trend in this type of technology is a bit predictable in regards to how the innovation and adoption from a highly technical user base will accept this new means of technology. If you look back at the evolution of things over the past couple of decades you will see that this situation has happened a couple of times. Specifically…
  • Mainframes to PCs
  • PCs to Laptops
  • Laptops to Smart Phones
  • Smart Phones to Tablets
  • and Finally… Tablets to both TV’s and Wearable Devices
I would align this transition most closely with the transition from Laptops to Smart Phone for a couple of reasons.
  1. Different interface needed for the end user
  2. Different screen size
  3. Different situational uses (for example, you can look at your watch in a meeting, but you don’t want to pull out your phone)
  4. Predefined stylistic requires, watches have already existed for a long time. If your design looks like something that is right off the set of StarTrek normal people are not going to wear it.
So what does all that mean? Well my take on it would be let the fundamental features and design aspects of a watch stay the same. Instead of cramping a touch screen from a smart phone into the watch face, keep the standard face. Instead subtle changes to its operation. For example a few specific features I would actually use without forcing me to wear some odd-ball looking future wrist device would be…
  • Vibrate and/or flash the face color of the watch based on notifications I set myself.
    • For example, take a look at Blink.
  • Use the bottom side where the watch’s clasp traditionally is to convey text information… not the watch face.
    • Use a high resolution but simple display types. If I get a text or email, give me a button to cycle through and serve as a quick display. However don’t try to cram media and a way to reply into the device.
  • Apply appropriate functionality into it’s feature set and predefined stylistic requirements.
    • Notifications for a bevy of things would be great, and be creative. For example, other than simple ones like Text and Email, possibly add some chat services like Microsoft Lync. I would go as far as to say just about anything IFTTT.com provides should be an alert feature of this device.
    • Simple sets of meta information on those alerts, not the 3 page email from the HR department. If I need to read that, I’ll pull out my phone, laptop, or tablet.
    • Any feature that would detract from the look of a traditional watch should be completely scrapped. If you don’t adhere to this jump in with Samsung and keep building odd looking stuff people will not wear.
So who will the big winner be? Well time will tell, however if we let history be out guide then I would expect someone who has little to lose and may not be a traditional player in these existing markets. Back to the example of the transition of Laptops to Smartphones no one was ready for the impact that Apple had on the market. All sorts of existing laptop manufactures saw the market’s need for the Smart Phone technology and thus had tried, but no one really cared as the functionality was cramming a laptop into a small phone. For that exact reason, prior the iPhone’s launch, the smart phone vertical just didn’t have the consumer attention that it does today. Learn from the past and give me a good looking watch that I can wear without it being a beacon to notify everyone of my CIS degree and overall lack of fashion sense.