One of the most popular buzzwords around at the moment is “wearables,” which refers to computing devices that, as you might guess, are worn on the body.
It’s the hottest tech trend of the past year and the field expected to reach a staggering $30 billion in sales by 2018. So what do you need to know about wearables to impress a potential client or someone in the industry (other than making a reference to Google Glass)? Here’s a breakdown of the basics:
Wearables are not new: They have existed for decades, but only recently got a high-tech makeover and some serious cachet. Think of the calculator watch, headphones, or more recently, Bluetooth headsets, which earned a reputation as an annoyance. Fast-forward to 2014. Headphones have turned into pricy showpieces for audiophiles and trendsetters, and that was just the beginning. Now with a powerful combination of miniaturized computing, the Internet, and hordes of enterprising companies, there is a wearable for nearly every activity in our lives.
What they do: The three major wearables categories are: lifestyle (to simplify everyday tasks and activities), entertainment (to deliver music, games, or movies), and health and fitness (to monitor personal body data for medical and motivational purposes). There are also medical, security and other markets, but those three are the biggies. The most popular types of wearables are fitness bands and smart watches. Though Google Glass has gotten plenty of press (and has been banned from some restaurants and bars), it’s not as popular as a handful of other devices. Then there are the wacky wearables, such as kids’ pajamas with QR codes for bedtime stories, or a headset that reads your dog’s mind.
Coverage head-to-toe: There are wearable form factors for almost every part of the body (yes, every part; read on). Major ones include: portable heads-up displays (or HUDs) over the eyes for computing, entertainment, or taking photos; an array of jewelry, from necklaces that warn of potential attackers to rings that control gestures; wrist bands to motivate work outs and smartwatches to compose emails; smart clothing to monitor medical conditions and track athletic performance; and even shoes that can give directions. Then there are the “Sexual Intimacy” wearables, which you can figure out for yourself.
The technology: It’s complicated, but here are the basics. For starters, though not all wearables require an Internet connection the excitement and value of these gadgets lie in the fact that they are connected to the rapidly growing “Internet of Things.” The complication? Most companies, whether big brands and startups, have built their own ecosystems, using proprietary or homegrown platforms and operating systems. Thus, many devices work in a silo, which ends up adding a lot of time and expense to the product development cycle. A potential solution would be to standarize hardware and software, which would streamline and lower the cost of the design process, and ultimately deliver better usability features (including longer battery life and the same charger working with multiple devices). Though there is some support for this idea in the industry, making it a reality is difficult. It will take a while.
Consumer adoption hurdles: One of the glaring issues for wearables, beyond the hype, is that, while consumers are intrigued with the idea, it’s not enough to open up their wallets. This is a story in itself, but here are the main things to know:
• Price Point: Even though half of consumers say they plan to buy a wearable in the future, about 75% of consumers think they are too expensive. Plus, the novelty often wears off after 6 months.
• Glamour Don’t?: Save for some sleeker exceptions, wearables are generally perceived as clunky. In fact, surveys show that more than half of consumers want wearables that are unique, such as understated jewelry, and other form factors that are more seamless and chic (Think of the wearables in the film “Her”).
• Competition With Smartphones: Most wearable tech must be paired with a smartphone to operate, and in some cases a smartphone can perform the same function using a mobile app. Wearables typically perform one function, whereas smartphones are the great multi-tasker (and virtually a wearable and appendage in and of themselves).
There are, of course, many other aspects to wearable tech, like who owns (and uses) all that transmitted data? How will wearables be monetized in the future? What types of wearables are primed for the workplace?
So if all this makes your head spin, don’t worry. It’s all still coming together. Sit back, relax and strap on the dream-enhancing headband tonight.
Janice Cuban is principal of Janice Cuban Creative, specializing in content marketing for B2B, B2C and small businesses. She is also a blogger, freelance writer and lover of all things marketing and technology.