Wearables are not (yet) a thing4/13/2016
When a new computing platform emerges, the initial reaction is similar to that of a 4-year-old on Christmas morning. At the age of 4, kids have reached the cognitive capability to anticipate the importance of Christmas morning but not the ability to discern between a stellar gift and an underwhelming one that’s been nicely wrapped. While not all new tech platforms underwhelm, the misses seem to hit with a fervid marketing scheme followed by a tepid consumer response. Right now, no sector of the tech consumer space is seeing the tide turn quicker than that of wearables.
Apple, Sony, FitBit, Google, Garmin and hundreds more wearable manufacturers really want you slap a tiny computer on your wrist or face. These little gadgets allow you to monitor your heartbeat, send and receive short messages, get directions, receive app notifications and other features that apparently aren’t convenient enough on smartphones. Of course, high-tech bracelets and headsets are billed as the great emancipator of the mobile addicted, but considering most wearables must be sync-ed with phones to unlock all of their features, they’re not so much a replacement as an add-on.
Still, to truly understand the marketplace’s indifference to wearable tech, look no further than the most high profile gadget in the field. Last spring, the Apple Watch was released to a supposedly eager tech community. Every mainstream and tech-obsessed news outlet covered the event as if every man, woman and child were moments away from owning his or her own luxury wrist computer. With all that coverage, one year later, Apple has yet to formally release the number of watches sold. Market estimates have set the number between 5 and 7 million, but Apple has suspiciously neither confirmed nor denied that figure.
Even without a formal acknowledgement, inquiring minds need look no further to the Apple Watch’s sales struggles than the company’s new product announcement last month. Every major Apple gadget got a tech refresh except the watch, which only received a new line up of wristbands. Nothing screams corporate confidence like fancy new leather.
Of course, just because consumers are less than fanatical about digital wristbands and glasses doesn’t mean that wearables don’t have a future. Healthcare looks to be ground zero for wearable interest. Beyond wristbands and headsets, doctors and researchers are looking for sensor technology that can read the human condition from every garment you can imagine. Whereas consumer tools mostly sense body temperature and pulse, healthcare innovations look to record and breakdown a patient’s condition from various bodily fluids and muscle, hair and skin conditions.
While the medical community is practically frothing at the mouth to try on the latest in wearable tech, the entertainment community has recently dipped its toe into the waters as well. As odd as it may sound, last year’s man-versus-nature film, “The Revenant,” gauged audience reactions to the film with pulse pounding thrills with high-tech wristbands recording their heart rates and breathing while watching the film. Apparently audiences held their breath, sat motionless and saw their heart rates skyrocket for the entire two-and-a-half-hour film. While the film was hotly anticipated with its Oscar-winning filmmaking team and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, the studio’s expectations went over the moon thanks to wearable data.
It seems that if Apple can’t make the wearable market take off, other industries are itching to do it themselves. Even if you may not choose be wearing a smart watch, ring, glasses or glove any time soon, it looks like your doctor or employer might eventually force it. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.