Wearable technology. Fad or world changing innovation?

“Wearable technology is one of today’s most hyped technologies but with manufacturers and Entrepreneurs struggling to find the mass market “Killer App” we explore whether one actually exists, and if it does what is it?”

Over the past two years the hype around Wearable Technology, or Embedded Technology and Ubiquitous Computing as it’s also sometimes known has steadily but surely reached fever pitch but despite hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of investment and the appearance of industry giants that include Sony, Google, Adidas, Samsung and Nike there is resounding agreement that no one has yet has found the killer app that will make the products fly off the shelves and appeal to the mass market.

People have been wearing technology for thousands, if not tens of thousands of years so the concept itself, no matter what name we choose to give it, is nothing new. Bronze Age hunters wore the first swords in 1,600BC and while many people wouldn’t necessarily categorise a three thousand year old sword as a piece of technology the fact remains that this technological innovation was one of civilisations most important advances. Fast forward three thousand years to 1530 and we see the invention of the first pocket watch which itself was quickly superseded in 1571 by the first wrist watch – the ancestor of today’s Smart Watches. Intriguingly it then took another 289 years before the manufacturing techniques and societal desire for the product was mature enough to enable manufacturers such as Patek Phillippe to produce the world’s first commercial watches.

Today it could be argued that the new age wearable technology industry is where watches themselves were in the late Nineteenth century, not only are today’s devices still relatively expensive to manufacture but many people still aren’t convinced that the category is anything more than a novelty. This would certainly go some way to explaining the analyst’s wildly different market valuations which predict that in 2018 the market will be worth anywhere between $6 Billion and $30 Billion and with legions of experts left scratching their heads trying to find the killer app it has lead people to question whether a killer app actually exists, so let’s explore that first.

Every major industry, both past and present, owes their existence to a killer Vision that targeted a distinct, unmet mass market need and that was so compelling that people had no option but to go out and buy the goods and services that underpinned it. The public have always had a variety of unmet needs but Inventors and Entrepreneurs often have difficulty finding them, for example some mass market needs – such as our need to communicate with each other are well documented but others lie hidden for years.

Having watched the Wearable Technology market grow and evolve over the past five years we’re of the opinion that there isn’t in fact a single killer application that will lead the charge and drive mass adoption but the saving grace here is that, much more importantly, there could be a killer Vision and as strange as this may sound we believe that this should be the industry’s desire to illicit the use of new wearable technologies to help people fulfil their need to be “Happy”. Naturally the critics among you might say that that’s a foolish idea but each of the individual factors that contribute to our state of happiness – including health, community, safety, fitness, money, relationships, support networks, spirituality, recreational activities and our objectives are all measurable and easy to understand. Furthermore the vast majority of them can be influenced relatively easily. Imagine a world where people’s mundane tasks are completely automated so they can spend more time with their loved ones, a world that knows you’re getting ill before you do so you can take proactive steps or a world that optimally adjusts itself to help you de-stress or save money. These are just four of a legion of possible use cases and wearable technology, albeit in a primitive way, is already being used to achieve these outcomes.

Happiness is the net result of a cocktail of biological, physiological and real world scenarios being harmoniously aligned. Just as there are innumerable individual ways for us to proactively look after our biological health – from the meals we cook to the exercise we take, the fact that we all have individual circumstances, lifestyles and aspirations means that the same is true for our psychological health so in the world of Pick and Choose consumer electronics wearable technology, unlike any other technology that has gone before it has the potential to detect all of the stimuli that that swirl within us and around us then translate, contextualise and communicate them to machines, devices and sensors that can react and adapt our environment in real time to suit each of our individual needs.

Our world is getting Smarter

The foundations of the smarter world are already appearing, being driven by new technological innovations such as the Internet of Things, Perceptual Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Vision and we all know that our world, our society and the physical objects and devices that surround us all are getting smarter and more interconnected by the day, allowing them to communicate with each other to automate and optimise an abundance of tasks. As the lines between our physical and digital worlds continue to blur one day we’ll wonder how one ever existed without the other but as we drive towards this new symbiotic Utopia we’ll encounter a fundamental barrier that, unless addressed, could undermine our ability to realise its benefits.

That barrier, of course, is the Human to Machine language barrier and while there are a number of ways we could communicate with the increasingly smart machines, devices and sensors that monitor, control and optimise the environment around us the fact remains that we like things to be convenient, seamless and, ideally, automated.

As humans we communicate and interact with each other and our environment in a variety of ways – consciously we communicate verbally and tangibly but subconsciously we also communicate with each other physiologically. However – and as if those three modes weren’t enough, our bodies have their own Automnic forms of communication – a style of biochemical Intra-Cellular and Intra-Muscular communication that communicates billions of times a second and then proactivley helps adjust our bodies biochemical balance to ensure we stay as healthy, and as stress free as possible.

Over the past two decades dramatic advances in science and technology have helped us to tap into all of these different modes of communication as well as our numerous other behavioural cues and it has helped make them all increasingly visible and once something is visible it’s only a matter of time until we understand how we can use them to our advantage – as the saying goes, we’ve let the Genie out of the bottle. Whether it’s headsets that read our thoughts to control UAV’s over Afghanistan, Smart Wristbands that read our physiological wellbeing to create better telehealth solutions or adjust Connected Home environments to help alleviate our stress or whether it’s simply Smart Glasses that read our eye glances and help us interact with new types of computer interfaces the fact remains that there are no end of use cases and if the industry advances with one vision then there is no reason why we couldn’t all slowly but surely inch our way towards a happier, less stressful future.

Todays fifty billion connected devices all communicate with each other using Machine Code and while the programmers among us know how to create code and write programs that facilitates this inter machine communication no one can actually speak it and even if they could then the majority of these devices and sensors don’t have any way to listen to or interpret it. Consequently this leaves us with no option but to create an intermediary ‘Translation Layer’ that can automatically detect and translate all of these communication styles, cues and behaviours into a language that machines, devices and sensors can interpret and then act on to create what’s now being called the ‘Programmable World’. In the future it’s likely that the machines will know us better than we know ourselves and wearable technology will have an invaluable role to play.

Conclusion

Wearable Technology by itself has the power to transform our lives and our relationships with our families, our friends and our environment and when coupled with the other myriad of emerging technologies there can be no doubt that we’ll all benefit and be happier for it but before we can realise the benefits of this Symbiotic utopia there is a lot of work to be done, consumer electronics and technology products needs to be flawlessly designed, leverage open ecosystems and manufacturers must be able to articulate clear visions and value propositions that gel well with the public. Do all of this and we may start seeing the dawn of a new future.

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