Food for Thought on Wearable Tech

Is wearable technology ready to be truly sensory? #wearables #smarttech #machinelearning

Four years ago, a revolution was ready to thrill us faster than anything we had experienced before it. It would fix the challenges we experience engaging with technology.

The revolution was that smartphones and tablets – which had ousted the once-dominant PC – would fall prey to wearables. These smaller, faster and smarter technologies were eager to push them aside.

What are these revolutionary devices?

Four years ago, smartwatches were the 'next big thing'. They were going to be that killer platform hosting our next social network. They were going to free us from our smartphones and elegantly make wearables mainstream.

Fast forward and none of that happened. In fact, we saw the opposite.

Pebble – the startup largely responsible for priming interest in smartwatches – sold itself to FitBit … only for FitBit’s sales to plummet by 40% in 2016. Even Apple declined to release unit sales for its Apple Watch – leading many analysts to infer underwhelming uptake before Series 4.

What about other wearable tech devices?

Google Glass was an eye-watering failure, Nike’s Fuel Band flopped and Jawbone had to grit its teeth, then admit defeat. If you add the ludicrous number of wearable tech rings, ties, shirts and even underwear claiming to change our lives. Over 18 million devices have gotten past Series A funding only to fold less than 2 years later.

A complete dependence on smartphones also makes most wearables’ way of life parasitic. Our phones are becoming ever more useful, advanced and ubiquitous. When your phone has a built-in fitness tracker why have a separate one attached to your wrist? Not a great idea, especially when it needs to connect to your phone.

A lack of innovation has therefore left current wearable tech on an inexorable trajectory, doomed to sit alongside fax machines, floppy discs and Betamax on the landfill of cultural artefacts.

Why didn't these life changing technologies change anything... yet?

Is it time to admit that despite the tech industry's enthusiasm, the gadgets we actually got didn’t live up to their promise?

Are wearables, at best, niche products for fitness gurus or geeks who like getting emails on their wrist? Or is the issue deeper?

Could early adopting, tolerance of underwhelming wearable tech just breed more of the same?

If so, what will be the solution?

The reviving factor will be creativity.

The lure of keeping phones and wearables inextricably linked is strong. For now, phones can offer immediately accessible processing power to glean insight rapidly from our sensing technology.

And there’s no point designing wearables with graphical interfaces. They could never compete with larger OLED screens found in the latest crop of smartphones.

What we really want is symbiosis, where wearables solve day to day problems before we’re even aware they exist… and in ways that phones will find impossible on their own.

Wearable tech will “reduce the number of seconds in the day when you’re confused. It will make you a functionally smarter human being.”
Phil Libin, former CEO of Evernote

Let’s press a magic button and create the perfect wearable

Who knows where it might lead?

The power of wearables comes from connecting our senses to sensors; the information the sensors gather won’t help you if you can’t benefit from it when you need it. For this, wearables need to be intuitive. They also need to be well-designed, comfortable and beautiful; better still... invisible.

Bring those two ideas together and you end up with what Google co-founder Larry Page called the magic two-second rule. “If you can’t use a tool effectively within two seconds,” he said, “your use of it goes down exponentially.”

Smartphones have trouble meeting the two second rule

By the time we extract them from our skinny jeans, swipe and find our way to whichever app we wanted, the moment has often passed.

And for all its portability, the smartphone still acts as a distraction from whatever else we’re doing — in the car, in a business meeting, at restaurants — even from our friends and family. Phones draw us away from what’s real and important into an increasingly addictive digital ether.

Any wearable should, therefore and as a minimum, reduce that friction.

But here’s the thing: Why just reduce it? Why not avoid it entirely? Even better, what if you could create the opposite of friction?

Is that where creativity finally turns the tables?

Our perfect wearable will reverse the time taken to do something into a negative: The device knows what you want before you know you want it. Its instant, even predictive information, will get you through your day.

It's a gateway to augmented reality, turning real-world data into unobtrusive, real-time solutions about the world around us. It will keep us grounded in our lives and functionally smarter in how we live them.

And where’s the best place for a wearable to find all this?

Where do we decide what’s important?

In our heads.

Food for thought, isn’t it?