The presence of wearable technology at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was astounding; you couldn’t walk 30 feet without passing another form of the innovation on display. While it’s not mainstream yet, wearable technology has already invited much speculation from consumers and analysts alike, and many companies and startups are jumping on the wearable bandwagon.
The best-known examples of wearable technology are smartwatches, fitness bands, and smart glasses, but there are many more in the pipeline. Everything from clothing to jewelry is fair game, and more products are in development all the time as this technology begins to catch on and appear on the average consumer’s radar.
What Wearable Technology Can Currently Do
Though it hasn’t yet amassed worldwide appeal, wearable technology does already have some useful features that make it a viable purchase for some consumers. Google Glass, for example, enables a user to take pictures or record videos and then share that media, as well as send messages, get directions, ask questions, read translations, and other handy features, plus more constantly in development.
Sony has had a headset available since 2012, and its latest tracks the user’s head movements to adjust what he or she sees. Other headsets are also in development, such as the transformative Oculus Rift, or Sony’s own recently announced VR headset.
Smartwatches like Pebble use voice voice navigation, see important notifications, control your music at any time, set a silent alarm that only you can feel, and more. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear allows users to answer calls (so you never miss that important call even when your phone is out of reach or you can’t find it in your bag), record voice memos, and more features similar to other smartwatches.
Many festivals employ wristbands that have a code embedded in them to act as an attendee’s ticket so he and she can always have the ticket close by and in a safe place. Plus, this helps to keep multi-day ticket selling between people under wraps. Disney too has adopted the wearable ticket wristband for its parks, which allows access to parks, coordinates meals and payments, and acts as hotel keys and tickets for Fast Passes for rides within the parks.
Other wristbands keep track of your steps, heart rate and other health and fitness-related applications. Smart wristbands are one of the most popular wearable technologies as of yet, and this segment alone is predicted to reach eight million annual shipments in 2014 and grow to more than 23 million units by 2015 and more than 45 million by 2017.
Apps for wearables are also becoming another advertised use for the technology. Apps for the Pebble smartwatch, for example, provide many of the previously mentioned features. They include Glance, which lets you customize your smartwatch with weather, calendar and stocks and send pre-configured SMS messages, PebbleCam, which turns your Pebble into a remote viewfinder and control for your smartphone camera, and MusicBoss, which lets you launch and control any music app on your smartphone, including volume control.
More applications and software are in the works for all smartwatches, smartbands, headsets and other wearable technology in development.
These current uses aside, for wearable technology to reach consumers on a mass scale, it needs to add many more features that make it useful enough to entice consumers to buy them. Smartphones, for example, allowed users to use the Internet from their phone, which immediately generated the market for apps for just about anything you can think of. Wearable technology will need to approach that level of usefulness too to become part of mainstream culture.
Here are 10 ways that wearable technology could become a more desirable product in the future.
Become More Aesthetically Pleasing
One of the issues facing wearable technology at the moment is that the current offerings are not always the most appealing on the level of aesthetics. It may seem petty, but this will be a huge deterrent for wearable technology, at least at first, until seeing it and using it begins to become a more everyday occurrence.
It’s likely that wearables will be more common in the workplace before the mainstream market. As with uniforms, wearable technology will end up being “part of the job” and how the work gets done, so it’s more than likely that even less aesthetically-pleasing wearables will appear on workers rather than the average consumer.
But with that proliferation in the workplace could come a normalization of the technology as a whole, which would eventually affect the way consumers view wearablesm and might even encourage them to buy some for personal use.
Specialize In One Task
Another problem for wearable technology is that many devices are trying to do everything, leading them to do nothing well. Wearable technology has an immense amount of possibilities, but they don’t all have to be located on one device. Sure, some consumer-facing models want to have more useful features than their competitors, but wearable technology goes far beyond simply what the average consumer will buy.
Wearable technology will be able to suit a variety of situations in the workplace environment as well, and instead of having one of these all-encompassing consumer models, workplaces will more than likely employ models that are built to do one specific purpose and to do it well. This specialized segment of the wearable industry may even turn out to be just as big or bigger at some point than the consumer segment.
Like with smartphones, smartwatches too will likely have many apps for playing games in the future, and Google Glass developers have already worked on games for the headset which can be played right in front of the user’s eyes with a few simple hand and head gestures.
Psyclops, for example, is a mix of 3D Space Invaders and Missile Command where users lock on to alien ships with a set of AR circles that they move with their heads and then blast as many targets as possible in 60 seconds. GlassBattle appends the game Battleship for Google Glass, displaying the two sides of the board on the headset for each player and using vocal commands for gameplay.
And that doesn’t even include the Oculus Rift or Sony’s Morpheus. These two headsets are rife with possibilities for VR gaming, and hundreds of games are already in development. The ability to use virtual reality in a headset and maneuver through game worlds like you’re actually there is poised to be revolutionary in the video gaming industry.
Expand Media Capabilities
While many wearables, such as various smartwatches, can already control your smartphone’s music library, wearables have much more potential in the realm of music—most of which we can’t even imagine yet.
One such example of musical integration for wearables would be music that is controlled by your heartbeat. For example, there is technology in development that can select and play music based solely on your heart rate—so it will play a calmer song if it is slower, and a more upbeat song if it is faster. Another wearable technology actually creates electronic beats, again based on your heart rate. These are just two of the many ways that researchers and entrepreneurs can figure out new ways to integrate music and wearable technology.
Give More Medical Applications
Wearable technologies already have some medical applications—some consumer-facing, others centered on healthcare providers. Monitors for blood pressure and blood sugar already exist as well as wearable monitors for the elderly for when they need to alert for assistance. There’s even a device where nurses can actually “see” the veins while they are inserting the needle, which makes them faster and more efficient.
But what if we can take that technology one step further? What if a surgeon could be able to see into his or her patient while performing the operation or to have vital signs and other information onscreen during it?
Wearable technology has a wealth of possibilities for the medical industry. One issue in hospitals is nurse fatigue, and wearable health monitors can watch a nurse’s vitals to alert a supervisor to potential nurse fatigue before it begins affecting his or her work. Wearables could allow for faster staffing decisions, making it easier to react to an influx of patients in the emergency room, which would necessitate keeping more nurses or doctors on duty.
Nurses and doctors can also access patient data on the go without charts, as long as the programs and healthcare providers abide by HIPAA compliance and address the safety of patient records.
Wearable technology has huge potential in the medical field, and this could be one of the first industries it really takes off in. By 2016, wearable tech in the medical field is predicted to jump to more than $2.9 billion.
Offer Hands-Free Instructions
This could go for both workers and the typical consumer. It can be frustrating to have to go between a sheet of paper or computer for instructions and back to the task at hand, particularly when your hands are full or dirty. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to prepare that meal with the recipe displayed right in front of you, rather than having to use sticky hands to swipe your tablet or find counter space for a recipe book?
For workers, they could access building instructions, such as for contractors or architects, who could have building plans right in front of their eyes as they go about their business. Repairmen on the job and consumers at home could read the instructions for how to fix something while they’re actually doing it. Repairmen such as plumbers and electricians could also be able to look inside walls for wiring and plumbing tasks that would be difficult once before.
Integrate Mobile Payment Options
Mobile payments are becoming a larger industry with each passing year, starting with PayPal back in the late 90s. As this industry grows, it is becoming more integrated with different technologies, such as smartphones, so that people can pay on the go, anywhere that has the proper scanner.
If paying with a smartphone was easier than carrying cash or credit cards, then paying without even having to take your smartphone out of your pocket would be even easier. Both smartwatches and smartglasses could be integrated with mobile payment systems fairly easily with the right chip and software to take payments even deeper into the 21st century.
Cooperate With Retailers
In addition to mobile payments, wearable technology can also be integrated into other points of a retail transaction. For example, scannable QR codes for products could allow glasses, bands or watches to display product information, such as features, price, promotions, warranties and so forth, right in the store. Or apps might be developed that allow a consumer to also bring up other similar products for an in-store virtual comparison. Customers could even share information and media (such as photos or videos they take with their wearables) on social media, much like they do already – just without the need to pull out their smartphones.
Even sales people on the other end of the transactions can use glasses and smartwatches for accessing sales information, such as inventory or promotions, without having to leave the customer to go elsewhere in the store.
Read And Post Social Media Updates
Using their smartphones, consumers already post social media updates on the go wherever they are. But sometimes, it’s not always convenient to have to pull out your smartphone and type in an update, because you might need your hands for something else. This is where wearable technology, like a smartwatch or glasses, might come in handy.
As social media use has become so prevalent among all age groups, having a new, more convenient way to access it on the go would appeal to a wide audience and could help the technology get off the ground.
Use Big Data
As with many rising forms of technology, big data has come into play and can be both captured and used via wearable technology. By collecting various forms of big data, companies could perform a wide range of tasks and promotions and otherwise find ways to deliver a better experience to the user.
Companies may use this data to create product demos, based on the user information they have gleaned from the product or app itself, and testimonials, as users can attest to how useful or unhelpful a certain device or app has been. Pharmaceutical companies can use health bands to track the performance of their medications in patients to help them improve the products via further research based on that user data.
Collecting and using big data also allows businesses to produce customer-facing product features as well, such as a smartwatch app that transmits car data to a user to alert them when the vehicle is in need of repairs or checkups. They can even create how-tos, which could explain to a user how to perform a task that he or she does often or does not know how to do in a better or more efficient way.
And, of course, as much as consumers might detest it, tailored advertising is another key objective reached by collecting user data from wearable technology. A user’s activities while wearing the technology can produce a ton of data about likes, dislikes, daily activities, preferred products, media consumed and much, much more. Advertisers can even get an idea of how many people see their print, billboard and transit ads as the wearable technology can scan a code on the ad itself to let an advertiser know the ad was being looked at. All of this data can then be transmitted back to the business to be used to personalize ads based on this customer information.
Therein lies, however, one of the major problems with collecting big data: maintaining user privacy. Just because all of this user data can be collected doesn’t necessarily mean it should be, and users should still be given the choice to hand over their data for something in return, such as some sort of product or service. If consumers use wearable technology and unwittingly have their personal data collected, this could cause a backlash for the technology, so companies need to be careful as to how and when they use wearables for big data purposes.