2014 is the year of the wearable.
No, wait. Scratch that; it didn’t happen.
2015 is the year of the wearable.
No, wait. Scratch that; it didn’t happen.
2016 is the year of the wearable.
No, wait. Scratch that; it won’t happen either!
What? Aren’t you the guy who wears two smart watches? Isn’t this your annual wearable technology predictions update? Yes, I am and yes, it is. But I’m also not lulled in by the seductions of wearable hype. The wearables market is experiencing a fun and interesting journey; it is a market going places, although there are a few areas where it seems to be pulling in two directions and I’ll mention three of them.
There are things happening really fast that are awesome. But at the same time there are also things happening slower than eager technologists and early adopters would like (generic, yes, but I’ll get there don’t worry).
There are experiences that are being delivered that are wonderful. But at the same time there are also some questionable experiences.
There are richer wearables use cases, user interfaces and user experiences. But at the same time there are also still a few folks out there disconnected from markets producing irrelevant use cases (their strategic marketing content also may not be market relevant) and the UI and UX may also be lagging behind.
Three is enough to demonstrate; each of these could merit its own blog post. Let’s take a look at the 10 predictions and see where we are today with some of the companies in the 2014 Industry Watch. Note, I said some. I heard you after last year’s lengthy update, Wearables Dirty Laundry. This update is half the size even though there is probably twice as much that should be covered. Please enjoy this summary and highlights with a few deeper embellishments where some real battles are being won and/or lessons being learned.
We are getting closer! As time is going on, the fad devices are fading. Consumers are becoming more aware of wearable tech.
In the buy sell arrangement of retail, consumers have all of the power. What is that power? Purchasing power. They will not exercise it unless they perceive that a product is relevant and creates sufficient value for them.
Early adopters have a different value equation than later stage adopters. Entrepreneurs as well as large corporates are taking the lessons learned from early adopters and applying them to satisfy more needs. Some are doing this faster than others. This prediction applies generally to the general market trend so for it I have laid out several company/product examples.
Misfit announced Misfit Ray and Specter since the 2015 update (Wearables Dirty Laundry). Ray is a wrist worn wearable, it fits the traditional mold Misfit became famous for. It is a sleek and beautiful wearable.
But, just like when they introduced a light bulb, I have questions about Misfit’s strategy with Spector, which is due out some time in 2016. Specter is a set of “wireless” ear headphones that also track activity (note the air quotes, they’re important later). So far so good and not far off the beaten path, right? I’m not so sure.
Misfit claims Spector also tracks sleep duration and quality. Yes. Sleep. They expect you to wear your earphones when you sleep. Now I don’t want to be biased because I personally don’t want to sleep with earphones. Why don’t you have a look at this image and decide if you want to sleep with it.
Now back to those air quotes. This doesn’t look exactly wireless to me. Redefining wireless to mean something with wires that doesn’t use wires to talk to your phone is a bit of a stretch. Mix in sleep with these wires and my gut tells me this may not be the best idea. Perhaps they have some strategic insight into their customers and target market that indicates that the product should be used in sleep situations. But if they don’t have the qual or quant, then the function is not relevant and should be removed from the advertising content.
Google Glass is evolving. It is becoming an enterprise solution with an enterprise grade experience. There is little solid info I can write here because my sources all can’t speak publicly on this. But what is public is the message on the Glass homepage, “Thanks for exploring with us. The journey doesn’t end here.”
APX Labs is still kicking it in an awesome way. Anyone who has met Brian Ballard, Founder & CEO, knows why. The leadership in the space is getting noticed and the messaging resonates. How so? Let’s look at their home page.
What do you notice? I notice strategic relevance to the market. “A new way to work” catches the eye and is then backed up with “We help your employees where it matters the most.” That is powerful relevance. That is showcasing that wearables satisfy customer needs.
Epson is now taking pre-orders for its new Moverio BT-300 glasses, which launched at #MWC16. The BT-200 is still available for $699.99. The enterprise BT-2000 headset is also available for $2,999.99. What do all of these do? They create real value by satisfying consumer needs, thus the quick mention here.
Note that Epson is one of many large corporates delivering real value in enterprise wearable tech.
Samsung announced their seventh watch during the year that has passed since the last wearables review, the Samsung Gear S2. I can’t really judge it because I haven’t used it, but the features list is impressive. If you’re not in the Apple ecosystem for your mobile device, this may be a good choice for you.
Device silo barriers are still a challenge; however, progress is being made as the market shifts toward an ecosystem that is more open and interoperable. This is happening far quicker than other industries, such as IoT enabled intelligent buildings, where incumbent solutions were designed and built to last 30 years in many cases.
An obvious leader in this space that was not included in the research on this particular prediction in the past is Apple and the Apple Watch. The release of OS2 for Apple Watch enabled growth in the ecosystem of apps that link the watch to other devices. Moreover, Siri is capable of controlling HomeKit compatible devices. I see a lot of promise in this area in the future both with Apple as well as other key players, even if tech analyst and insiders wish the watch did more.
Companies that combine the information of multiple sensors in multiple wearable devices will create more value for their consumers than producers of single wearable devices. (Click to view original 2014 Industry Watch).
This is still one of the more interesting predictions and it is still a challenge to see it clearly happen. Here are three examples.
My most favorite company in this by far is still Sensum. Since discovering them and meeting Gawain Morrison, Sensum’s CEO, a couple years ago, I’ve grown fond of the product, the solution and the people. But don’t take my word for it, Morrison explains it best in this clip:
Apple Watch leverages sensor data in itself and another device (the mobile phone’s GPS). But this isn’t the same scale this prediction is really referring to. Yes, it creates more value, but at the same time many people want a watch with a GPS in it. I anticipate we’ll see more wrist worn devices in the future with both GPS and GSM, but I’m not adding that as prediction #11, just saying this is where it is going.
Wearable textiles have advanced tremendously in the past year. Those in the space, especially those providing precision clothing solutions for athletes, are extremely bullish on the sensor and data fusion that will occur. I’ve compared wearables to zippers that were also cost prohibitive and the market didn’t imagine the ubiquity of zippers in pants today.
Wearables will become more intelligent because of developments in sensor technology and the ability to translate data from these sensors into insight via analytics. (Click to view original 2014 Industry Watch).
I still think we’re on track with this prediction but will only talk about a solution from one company, Apple. Rumors of a new version of the Apple Watch that include more advanced sensors that were pulled from the first version because of accuracy issues are becoming more prevalent. I don’t think that this is because of people repeating what they’ve heard and putting their own spin on it. My sources lead me to believe there will be more sensors. My hope is that they’re consistently more accurate than what is experienced with the heart rate in the current version of the Apple Watch.
This is happening and we’re also beginning to see the prices of wearable types that have been on the market drop. For example, you can get a Phyle Phrm38bk Heart Rate Monitor Watch for only $22.13 at WalMart. Obviously this is not a brand people are familiar with, or an experience most people would be satisfied with, but the fact of the matter is that the sensors inside it are going down in cost. For devices where prices have not yet gone down as sensor costs have gone down, there is a different value equation where the data and insight are being leveraged to improve the product, so we can’t expect the prices of everything to go down.
I started off last year’s update with this, “The battery technology in use in most wearables today is about 20 years old.” One year later we haven’t seen any new miracle batteries come to market. I wish I had more to say here. A lot of people were tossing around a lot of fluff this time of the year last year about the Apple Watch. Most people who purchased it in 2015, including myself, have no issue with charging it every night. Yea, it would be nice, but we’re not there yet so we’ll get by charging frequently.
This is by far one of the best winners in the past 12 months. So many people are finally on board with designing wearables that actually fit the user expectations for beauty. My favorite is WiseWear. Jerry Wilmink, WiseWear’s Founder & CEO, has a team and a strategy no one is going to be able to beat. He started with beautiful womens bracelets with simple functionality built in and has secured the mentorship and endorsement of fashion legend Iris Apfel.
At #CES16 WiseWear announced their men’s belt and buckle. It’s a statement. The design is impeccable throughout, including the special clasp with the WiseWear brand’s W built right into it (see more on that here). Thank you Jerry for leading the world in this area!
People are going to use undetectable wearable technology by using wearable ultra-sensitive micro sensors, sensors smaller and more sensitive than the innovative seat belt microphone in Audi’s R8 Spyder that enables clear cell phone conversation with the top down at lightning speeds. (Click to view original 2014 Industry Watch).
This is where the world is getting more technical and more amazing. Last fall mCube, announced the world’s smallest 3 axis accelerometer. At only 1x1mm and 75% smaller than the 2x2mm accelerometers on the market before its announcement, this sensor is a welcome addition to the wearable producer’s toolkit.
mCube isn’t alone in developing smaller sensors that will enable wearables to fit seamlessly in our lives but they’re the only ones included here not because of time constraints but because they’re approachable. They’ve welcomed me to their office multiple times and we’ve enjoyed conversations about the status of the market and the future, whisperings of which they love to hint at (no big secret, they are great with monolithic MEMS and things are getting smaller). I am bullish that sensor tech will get small enough to be seamlessly integrated in our wearable tech infused lives. It will be due, in large part, to great leadership in this space by mCube.
The hottest story on privacy right now is Apple vs FBI. Of course this is not related directly to wearables but the outcome of this case and the debate will have ramifications in the wearable space, especially since Apple produces the most popular wrist worn computing wearable the world is aware of. Ponder this comment by US President Barak Obama at SXSW earlier this week, “I am of the view that there are very real reasons why we want to make sure the government cannot just wily-nilly get into everyone’s iPhones or smartphones that are full of very personal information or very personal data.”
I won’t be surprised to see stories in the future where wearable data is hacked and data is used to expose things like health information and physical activity, including sexual activity, of celebrities or public figures. Society as a whole, though, won’t care about this a few months after the story breaks, as is the case today with the Ashley Maddison hack last summer.
The topic of contextually appropriate wearables is not ever going to be the topic of conversation at parties; however, the magic contextually aware wearables will make most certainly will be when the wearables enable experiences that are context appropriate. Disney is the leader in contextual experiences; the Magic Band is magic because of context. Dig in on the Magic Band if you’re learning about it for the first time here.