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Wearable Tech is on the up

Kieran Alger
14th October 2014

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are just the start…

Wearable technology is the most prolific trend in tech right now but smartwatches and fitness trackers are just the start. Mediablaze’s Editor-in-chief Kieran Alger reveals what’s coming next.

When Apple finally took the covers off its much-rumoured Watch there was almost an audible sigh of relief from the early pioneers in the wearables market. With Apple joining the party, this market sector would finally go mainstream. The full weight of Apple’s design and marketing machine would help convince consumers that wearables were desirable, useful and most importantly, fashionable. The Watch, it was claimed, would do for smartwatches and wearables what the iPod had done for MP3 players.

Join the party

The truth is, Apple has come late to the wearables party. Big brands like Sony, Samsung and LG are already on the second and third generations of their smartwatches, while new entrants have been joining the wearable space at a rapid pace since the beginning of 2013.

Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have long been spilling over with innovative new wearable concepts. From products that count your reps in the gym, to GPS trackers to help keep your kids safe, many of these ideas are now making it to market joining big hitters like Oculus Rift and Google Glass preparing to fight for a space in our everyday.

While there has been an explosion in creativity akin to the app gold rush, getting a product on the shelf is one thing. Convincing consumers they need it in their lives is another and the adoption of wearables hasn’t been keeping pace with the productivity of the start up scene.

So is this a party worth being at? Will we be convinced to part with our money for this new wave of devices? All the brands seem to thinks so. Even Apple. The analysts think so too.

A growing market

Estimates from ABI research reveal that the global wearable fitness technology market can expect to develop and grow substantially in the coming years with research indicating that up to 90 million wearable technology units will ship by the end of 2014.

This research is backed up by a CCS Insight forecast that has predicted the wearable market would expand from 9.7 million device shipments in 2013 to 135 million in 2018.

To date health and fitness have been big driving forces for adoption. IT analysts Canalys claim the smartband market rocketed an incredible 684 per cent, year-on-year, for the first half of 2014 and according to Samsung’s mHealth research, 37% of UK adults cited burning calories as the top reason to buy a wearable device.

Track every move

The combination of cheaper sensors and smartphone connectivity has helped fuel our seemingly insatiable desire to track our every move. The rise of this quantified self has already powered wearable success stories making companies like Fitbit and Jawbone household names. It’s also helped brands outside of tech like Nike and Adidas muscle in on the space.

At the same time we’re seeing non-fitness companies like Epsom bringing out running watches and gym equipment manufacturers like Technogym producing their own Wellness Key to help take the gym outside. Even Nissan have shown that they want in on the action unveiling a smartwatch concept that communicates with your car.

The fashion conscious consumer

While health and fitness has been a driver for adoption, outside of that sector companies have struggled to convince consumers to buy wearables. There appears to be two distinct reasons – lack of style and unconvincing substance.

With smartwatches in particular the big brands have failed to demonstrate strong enough user cases to make people want another device to plug in at night. They’ve simply not answered the question ‘why do I need this?’.

They have also failed to make them cool with early generations of devices heavily criticised for lacking style. The original Samsung Gear smartwatch failed to impress, as did the Sony Smartwatch and the Pebble. Even the Apple Watch divides opinion.

This lack of fashion appeal is a problem manufacturers are responding to. There’s an 18-carat gold Edition of Apple’s Watch while products like the Moto 360 smartwatch have been designed with one eye on the more traditional watch buyer.

Google Glass recently collaborated with Luxottica, the company behind brands Ray-Ban and Oakley to design high fashion eyewear that incorporates Google’s innovative technology. Meanwhile Samsung partnered up with Swaovski to create the “Swarovski for Samsung” collection, an exclusive collection of Swarovski crystal accessories for Gear Fit.

It’s catching the imagination of the high end fashionistas too. Early in 2014, we saw the first wearable technology catwalk show at New York Fashion Week, where CuteCircuit showed a ready to wear collection featuring the latest textile and wearable technology innovations. Winning the trend setting fashion crowd is high up the list – As is engagement.

Keep the faith

A bigger worry for wearables pioneers, far too many consumers are picking up wearable tech and then putting it down again just as fast. It’s what mobile and strategy consulting experts, Endeavour Partners, calls “the dirty secret of wearables.”

“Most of these devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users.” says Dan Ledger, author of a research paper on the wearables market.

According to research in the U.S., which looked at the usage of fitness related wearables, more than half of U.S. consumers who owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it while a third who bought one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.

Fabric of the future

It’s no surprise then that experts are tipping the biggest breakthroughs to come when wearables start to disappear into the background, as smaller sensors are built into everyday fabrics, making wearables less intrusive and more capable.

Wearable sensors will have to be invisible if they are to be adopted widely, says Andy Baker CEO of wearable tech company SmartLife who are working to produce smart garments that can provide 360 degree, 24-7 insights into our health and fitness.

“The future has got to be something that’s discreet or invisible, so they can put the thing on, relax, and it will work.”

SmartLife is currently working with clothing manufacturers to try and get sensors not just in sports bras but in every variation of everyday bra you can buy off the shelf. That’s right, we’ll soon see normal clothes with the capability to track everything from how our heart rate rises after we drink a cup of coffee, to our breathing rate when we’re about to do that big pitch presentation.

We’re a way off yet but once the technology starts to melt into the background and become all pervasive, that’s when we’ll know it’s here to stay. When we stop using the word wearable, that’s when this new wave of technology will really have become part of our everyday lives.

Wearable innovations you should pay attention to.

SmartFit Smart Garments

Putting sensors into everyday clothing to create full 360, 24-7 picture of our health. With the ability to detail everything from our heart rate to our breathing, smart clothes will reveal the hidden consequences of our lifestyle choices. Whether we choose to ignore them will be up to us.

StatSports Viper

GPS and accelerometer based technology used by the majority of the Premier League teams, the FA and teams in the NFL to provide a detailed picture of professional sports players exertion. Clever enough to predict injuries and tell you when one of your stars might be getting a cold. Watch out for this crossing to everyday athletes soon.

Oculus Rift

Facebook’s virtual reality solution, Oculus is bringing virtual worlds to the masses. Recently partnering with Samsung to produce a VR headset that’s powered by a smartphone, the applications of this technology from gaming and fitness, to retail and medicine, are huge.

Apple Watch

We’d be foolish not to put this on your list. How this watch sells will be a barometer for the smartwatch market. It’s focus on health, fitness and payments are likely to reveal a great deal about the shape of things to come.

Android Wear

The operating system powering the Samsung Gear, the LG G Watch and the Moto 360, the development of Android Wear will be a big driving force as more and more devices are added to its roster.

Mediablaze Reading List: Great Wearable Tech Resources

Raconteur Special Report on fitness tech The latest insights into the fitness technology and wearable space – The leading consumer site covering the emerging wearable tech market

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