With a growing list of companies launching wearable technologies to the market, or experimenting with them in their R&D departments, it seems unavoidable to ask: what is the future of wearables for ‘normal people’ like us?
And by normal people I mean typical citizens that don’t feel an insatiable need of collecting Apple products… Yes, I might be talking about the buyers of the lately launched ‘Apple Watch’ here…
But let’s focus back and start from the very base of the topic. What are wearables? What does wearable technology really mean? Well, coming up with a proper definition presents already a challenge, as the term of ‘wearables’ is one of the most inclusive ones in the world of gadgets. Wearable technologies are devices that allow the user to carry with himself as part of its clothes and accessories, or attached to (or even in) their body, a kind of technology with a correspondent utility. As you may be thinking, this definition doesn’t set anything but blur limits. Although maybe that is that what makes the world of wearables fascinating for both designers, innovators and any kind of technology expert, that perceive them as with endless possibilities. Not just experts are showing a deep interest in the field; CEOs of different market-leader companies look at them as an opportunity to expand their influence to new markets, or evolve their companies to the next level.
Many industries are playing with integrating wearables in their core typology of products with, in some cases, quite promising ‘results’, although most of them are still far from being market-ready.
One of the first adopters was the fashion industry. Always thirsty for new trends to transform into money makers, it was an obvious strategy for many fashion brands to make an incursion into the world of wearables. From companies that use them as the main essence of their proposition, like the London based Cute Circuit that has designed the next uniforms of the EasyJet crew, to established ones such as Ralph Lauren. This last one has made a considerable investment in developing what they called the ‘PoloTech™ Shirt’: a compression t-shirt that measures heart rate and breath and has been already used during the tennis matches of the U.S. Open. The incursion of big fashion brands in the world of wearables is obviously making a statement for the whole industry and us, the consumers.
On the other hand, technology brands are using fashion to make these new gadgets more attractive for customers. The Moto 360, Motorola’s smartwatch and serious competitor in this category, allows the customer to personalize every part of the watch from a website with a sleek design. As this one, there are many other examples that show a collaboration between purely technology based companies and fashion brands. This creates a tradeoff between two very different industries, with also different perspectives and priorities (functionality versus self-expression); which may ultimately not always result in a successful product.
Another industry that could obtain way more exciting results with the introduction of wearables is Healthcare. In his article for fastcodesign.com called ‘Beyond fun: the vital future of wearables’, the strategy designer Daniel Gomez Seidel makes a complete review of the actual scene of innovation in healthcare due to the introduction of wearables. Of all the examples he mentions, the applications go from heart monitors to microchips for birth control to detecting mood fluctuation, what could help with psychological treatments. Exciting, isn’t it?
But so far, the ‘normal consumer’ would have to content himself with the various offer of smartwatches and other gadgets that result from the association of wearable technology with fashion. In my opinion, the actual offer of wearables reinforces the idea that these gadgets are up to now only a way for the user to make a statement. It is obviously not yet about the technology and how it can be used to benefit people’s lives, but about reinforcing the type of image and social status the user wants to reflect; for example: the ‘early (technology) adopter’.
Moreover, experts argue that this technology, as it currently is, is not really wearable, with major flaws in the user interaction or simply long run practicality issues. If the future of wearables is more practical than ‘fashionable’ we cannot know yet. But it might be fair to say that this technology is here to stay, in one way or another. No matter the direction of its evolution, with opportunities and promises as the ones we can already foresee, I will be willing to follow it from the very front seat (of my desk chair).