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[14 comments]

Will tech wearables go mainstream?

January 17, 2014

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."

Discussion Questions:

Do wearable technologies face more hurdles toward mass adoption than other revolutionary tech products in the recent past? Which do you see as the biggest challenges in gaining mainstream status?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the three hurdles identified in the article will be the biggest for tech wearables to overcome before achieving mass appeal?

Comments:

Don't believe the hype! Wearables, at this stage, are a fad. How many are you going to have Google Glass, Fitbit Flex, or a Galaxy smartwatch plus your smartphone? Individually they all serve a purpose, but are you going to really wear more than one...say Glass and a watch?

I've been testing the Fitbit Force for 3 months. So now I have a 'watch' on both wrists. While it is nice to know the degrees of slothfulness each day, I find annoying to have to enter how much water you've had, what your weight is, etc. When that device can tell me how many calories I've CONSUMED by scanning my skin then it is useful.

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Robert DiPietro, GVP Product Strategy & Business Development, Affinion Group

Like most technological innovations, wearable technology will face a steep growth curve before being widely adopted. As greater functionality is brought to wearables, consumers will begin to embrace these gadgets. And as they are embraced, the costs will decrease. Look for Millennials to lead the way.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Wearable technologies will go through the same gauntlet that other technologies have passed toward mass adoption. The end result is that these technologies will be ubiquitous. The speed in which they are accepted is directly proportional to the value (real or perceived) that they bring to the customer. Talking into your wrist watch is not going to get it done.

I believe the great opportunity lies in the merging of fashion, biometrics and e-medicine. I believe there is tremendous and invaluable potential in health monitoring and early diagnosis. Diabetes, Epilepsy, heart conditions, chronic pain are just a few afflictions where wearable monitoring and delivery technologies could dramatically improve life.

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

Technology companies are a little like lemmings. One does something so they all feel compelled to do it too. Wearables are the latest tech craze and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, whether or not they have a product that actually brings a real benefit to the consumer. If people find a real benefit, such as the transition from laptop to tablet, then maybe some of the myriad of wearables with become a mainstream device.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

Wearables are at about the same stage as connected home concepts (ala Google's acquisition of Nest). Throwing things at the wall at this stage, but refinements will bring wider adoption. With wider adoption will come lower prices and....

It's not "in" or "out," it's all in the iteration.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

The most hopeful wearable technology will solve verticalized problems - like heads up displays for use in sports like skiing and that's because they add value and solve real problems.

The health related wearables will appeal to folks who are obsessive about their health, the quantifiable health crowd. Or folks who have a real need to make lifestyle changes, folks with chronic problems.

The examples I gave are niche and linked to audiences that care about contextual statistics like:

  • how high was that jump?
  • how fast was I going?
  • where are my friends/kids right now on the ski slope
  • how many steps did I take?
  • what was my heart rate while posting to RetailWire?

To achieve mass adoption, we need to evolve past the product centric phases (we call them wearables) to the mass appeal; novices get the value phase. But to get there, the early phase machinations must happen:

  • build a prototype
  • release/focus on the developers -
  • ship to early adopters
  • get another round of funding/iterate (and all this is happening at the firms you/I haven't heard about yet.)

The mass break out will probably originate out of the empty space - predicted future headline:

  • Lead: Volcanic eruption Drives Smart Watch adoption
  • Sub: Socialized Toxic Gas Sensors Saves Humanity!
  • Sub2: How I met your mother through wearable toxic sensors.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

Yes, they face some more hurdles, but they will be overcome when they merge into one device that solves a need/want. Do you really "need" a smartphone? The biggest challenge I see is making a device solve a need and just as important being fashionable. Likely to be in the health monitoring arena/military/police first. If my child had diabetes, you bet I would want to be able to look at a wristband to see how there glucose level was doing.

Just watch Continuum to see where this go - wearable armor, stress detectors to detect lying, etc.

Another challenge might be in the workforce - do you want to wear a device that monitors what you are doing all the time if it reports back to your employer?

'Stanaggie'

Wearable tech will go mainstream. The first things to scale may not be things that require us to explicitly choose and buy them like Google glasses, but items that have tech integrated in a less visible way.

The path to adoption will also be different depending on whether the value add is health monitoring like blood pressure, glucose or bacteria, exercise monitoring, communication and connectivity or all the other dimensions being developed.

I think this will happen more rapidly than we imagine as employers, healthcare providers, insurers and so on further drive the incentives.

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Matthew Keylock, Senior Vice President, New Business Development and Partnerships, dunnhumbyUSA

A lot of the hundreds of millions being spent in this arena is just fuel for a fire that will rage in fits and starts for years. The bottom line is that people have five senses and about 20 sensations, all of which can serve as I/O for the human. The eyes are the #1 human I/O device, and the ears #2, each with their powerful uses - but distinct.

Think of a smartphone of any type - including watches or whatever - as essentially a communication link to "the cloud" where all the information in the universe can potentially exist, and a good deal already exists there. Then think of the human with all their senses and sensations, plus their on-board natural computer, the brain and body, linked through the smartphone to all the rest.

Marketers (and others) are going ballistic over the possibilities, most with VERY poor understanding of human nature, many obviously projecting from themselves to the universe of beings. It's a recipe for the waste of billions of dollars on what is effectively SPAM!!!

I've written more on this at the Wharton Future of Advertising 2020 program.

But one HUGE issue is simply size - not just relevance. People are NOT going to be getting huge or tiny, we're here to stay in a fairly limited size range. That is relevant to the modalities. Non-SPAM content - taken in its broadest sense - is a larger issue.

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor TNS Global Retail & Shopper, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Ultimately, I think the very concept of "wearable technologies" will seem quaint. By that, I mean technology will just be a part of apparel and accessories that contributes a certain feature set. It's like fabric technology...no one really thinks about the technology, they just think "these are pants that breathe really well."

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

It seems if the use cases are additive to the consumer experience, versus just a different form factor for a function you might source from a smartphone, the more likely adoption will happen quickly.

The fashion aspect could also play a huge role in adoption; for example, were celebrities with mass appeal to promote and be seen publicly with wearable tech, it could greatly affect the take up.

Battery life could also be a big factor in take up for convenience but also to avoid the "hassle" perception with ensuring something you plan to wear is ready to go.

From a tech point of view, the data collection potential to provide personal analytics is interesting. I'm not sure how consumers would receive personal, wearable devices as ad delivery platforms though - you can be sure that will come at some point.

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Gib Bassett, Global Program Director for Consumer Goods, Teradata Corp.

A quick look around and/or in the mirror will quickly divulge that wearable technology has been a part of consumer life for some time now. First beepers on our belts and now ear-phones. If more communication power is available on the wrist or within a pair of eye lenses then these items will be purchased by the millions and worn every day by the consumer. These information technologies and their future offspring, implants and/or whatever, are simply a matter of time and economy of scale. To believe otherwise is a mistake that will allow the competition to pass you by.

'gjarnoldjr'

Wearable technology is the future, as consumers will be attracted to solutions that enable them move ever more fluidly between technology and the physical world. The more accessible the solution makes the technology, the better.

That isn't to say all wearable tech is created equal. I see Google Glass like Segway - revolutionary idea but with little real world utility in its current form. The potential for distraction and the physical altering of one's appearance are hurdles too high for mass adoption. But Google smart contact lenses - very applicable!

As a Pebble owner, I can vouch for the fact that smart watches have potential to completely change and improve the way we receive and send content. It has allowed me to keep my phone in my pocket and out of sight, and my hands free, while still being able to monitor for urgent calls, emails or texts, or even to see when my wife has added something to our shared shopping list (we use AnyList).

For marketers, the opportunities are endless. Consider the potential for marrying tech like iBeacon, to wearable tech - as you approach an item on your shopping list, an instant coupon pops up on your watch. Or to alert you that a favorite item is on sale.

It's easier to dismiss the category as a fad now, but many thought that true of the horseless carriage...or the iPod.

Daniel Silverman, Vice President, eComm Sales Strategy, Etailing Solutions

If anything, hurdles towards mass adoption will be less for wearables due to the road already paved by the last decade of ever-smaller, ever more powerful devices the vast majority now use without question. It is possible that Apple's iWatch may launch mainstream use of the next wave, or possible the next generation of Google Glass. Or it could be something else. But, no question, it will come. And it will surprise us with it's speed of adoption and serve as a launchpad to the next several leaps forward.

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

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