Smartphones are so 2013. The next big thing is wearable technology but are we ready for the onslaught of FitBits, connected jewellery and what not?
Already the market is saturated with health-geared wrist bands (think Nike FuelBand, FitBit and Jawbone), competition in the smartwatch bubble is heating up and Google Glass is already on the streets via the nose-bridges of Google Glass Explorers.
But are we really ready for wearables to infiltrate our lives the way smartphones have?
Erik Hallander, Isobar’s head of mobile and innovation, says there is still a lot of scepticism. “And for good reason. Very few wearable devices have shown to add significant values to our lives. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s certainly only around the corner now,” he says.
Hardhat Digital’s director of strategy Dan Monheit says Australians will embrace wearables with gusto as more devices that are relatively cheap and add real value or utility to our lives without asking too much in return enter the market.
“We talk about ‘wearables’ like they’re a crazy new concept, but if you think about the relationships each of us have with our phones, we practically wear them 24/7 as it is,” says Monheit.
“The other big factor is that many of these wearables provide a stack of information about everyone’s favourite topic – themselves.
“A $100 device with an accompanying app means we can indulge in our narcissism like never before, by measure, graphing, and comparing our stats with others day and night.”
According to Forbes, wearable device penetration is already significant in the US where one in six adults own one.
The wearable market was worth US $2.7bn in 2012 and that figure is forecast to hit $8.3bn by 2018, according to the 2013-2018 Wearable Electronics Market and Technology Analysis report.
Locally, Australians are open to wearable devices with our fondness for wearable tech greater than that of our US and British counterparts.
Research by cloud computing company Rackspace found 35% of Australians use wearable tech such as smart glasses, health and fitness monitors, cameras and smart watches. Of that 35%, 64% believe the technology has enhanced their lives. Only 18% of people in America and the UK use wearables according to the 2013 report.
One Australian man took his love of all things digital and wearable one step further when he had an NFC/RFID chip inserted into his hand. Apart from the being able to turn off all his lights in his house by tapping his phone to his hand Ben Slater, the director of the Vanilla Brief agency, says he is pretty normal.
This video shows the chip in action but jump to about one minute if you’re prone to squeamishness and want to skip seeing the chip being inserted into his hand.
Australian consumers may be open to donning technology but are we ready for the social impact?
There are also concerns the data collected by these devices could be turned against the wearer.
Imagine your health insurer tracking your exercise habits and charging you more for not fulfilling the prescribed 30 minutes of exercise per day.
And some of the technology has not had the warmest reception with Google Glass wearers having already earned themselves the dubious title of ‘Glassholes’.
Isobar’s Hallander says “backward striving people like to point” and he believes that as wearable penetration picks up there will be negative impact from those who like to complain about things they don’t understand.
But, ultimately, those people fade away with time.
“Like any other technology, wearables just amplify who we already are,” Hardhat’s Monheit argues.
“If you’re an arrogant asshole as it is, a pair of Google Glasses will just make you an arrogant asshole with a permanent internet connection attached to your face.”
Brands are playing catch up with their consumers when it comes to technology – you only have to look at the gap between the time spent on mobile devices compared to the marketing dollars invested there. (Mary Meeker’s KPCB study from earlier this year found a $30bn gap in the US between the amount of time spent on mobile and the amount of advertising dollars spent on the channel.)
So it is more than likely the wearable wave will drown a few unprepared brands.
Hallander says the industry unfortunately features a fair amount of misguided attempts when it comes to wearables. “The key here is to not treat the technology as the hero, but more the unique experience it can enable.”
Monheit says that smart brands will know better than to create their own and will instead look to tap in to existing platforms and behaviours. “For example a health insurance company may run a rewards program that assigns points to members based on how many steps their FitBits record each day.”
“It also goes without saying that interruptive/display advertising has no place in this world,” he adds.
The devices Australians are most likely to wear
Smartwatches, the domain in which the tech giants are currently moving to claim as their own, are the wearables most likely to float Australians boats.
“The market for activity trackers is becoming quite saturated in general, and it’s not a massive leap to go to a smartwatch that retains those capabilities,” says Hallander.
But heads up displays like Google Glass are a long way off being mainstream.
The devices that take off will be the ones that get the golden ratio of lots of value for minimal user input right according to Monheit.
They also have to look hot.
“A key, and often underrated part of being a successful wearable, is that people actually need to want to wear you. As soon as the ‘new toy’ buzz wears off, ugly, clunky watches promptly get thrown in the bottom drawer no matter how cool they may have seemed when you ordered them on Kickstarter all those months ago,” says Monheit who was speaking from personal experience.
Cue collaborations between tech firms Samsung and luxury fashion labels? Perhaps. But that possibility and the impact of wearables on the fashion industry is a discussion for another time.