With Intel, Qualcomm, Sony and Samsung joining a host of upstarts crowding the Consumer Electronics Show with new launches, the hype around tech wearables has quickly led to some backlash around their potential mass appeal.
Many stories questioning tech wearable's potential bring up three basic hurdles toward mass adoption:
Function & Fashion: Like watches, eyeglasses, and other products in the past, "smart" wearables have to be functional but also attractive enough to be flattering to a person's appearance. Google Glass appears to face a long wait before avoiding stares in public, but so do smartwatches with screens equal to some smartphones. Beyond watches, bracelets and glasses, tech wearables now include brooches, visors, necklaces, bras, pants and even socks. Fashion and jewelry makers are being recruited to increase the aesthetic appeal.
Usefulness: Already questioned is the need for all the functions on the increasingly-popular fitness trackers, represented by Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike Fuelband. They may measure heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, sleep patterns, workout intensity, location and speed. Many glasses-like headsets and smartwatches also boast the same features as smartphones — promising instant notifications of e-mails, texts, tweets as well as enhanced video, camera, music playlist and GPS-tracking capabilities. Some act like virtual assistants. Options for pets and infants are also now available.
Writes Mike Cassidy for the San Jose Mercury News, "It's hard to believe that all that many people want to talk into their wristwatches aka Dick Tracy, rather than into a headset or the phone itself; or that people who don't have to wear glasses want to wear glasses so they can see the internet every walking and waking minute."
Internet Obsession Fears: Already concerned about their addiction to smartphones, some consumers worry that more sophisticated and accessible wearable devices will make them even more obsessed with the "internet of things." In a blog entry on Google+, tech pundit and early Google Glass adopter, Robert Scoble, wrote, "People are scared of losing their humanness. What makes them human. I get questions all the time about whether the internet will decide everything in life for us and what that means."
The brief counterargument is that all major technological advances — personal computers, the iPod, smartphones, tablets, etc. — similarly faced doubts over their mass appeal. Future advances will make them less expensive, more appealing, purposeful and ultimately an indispensible part of living. The rumored Apple iWatch's arrival is expected to particularly help launch the category.
"For most of my career, computing has been something you hold in your hand, maybe have in your pocket or that sits on your desk," said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel in opening keynote at the CES show. "That idea is about to be transformed."
Which of the three hurdles identified in the article will be the biggest for tech wearables to overcome before achieving mass appeal?