RSR Research: Does Wearable Technology Creep You Out?

Discussion
Aug 19, 2013

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

One of the joys of being an analyst at RSR is the ability to draw your own line. There’s no corporate line to toe of any kind, so what I might think is cool, one of my partners might find an egregious violation of privacy. One may see a useless technology, another the wave of the future. We’re quite vocal about it.

As it relates to the Wearable Tech Expo that I attended at NYU’s Kimmel Center in New York in late July, much of what I saw was way over my line.

The coolest demonstrations were those that provided aid to people who have been disabled. This included one company working on bringing sight to both those who have lost theirs and — even more challenging — to those who have never had it. The most freaky of the technologies demonstrated were those designed to be worn in the workplace, where employees don’t have a choice.

[Image: Vuzix M100

Around consumer applications, I quickly found my line. We often use the term "a hammer looking for a nail" here at RSR, and the majority of what I saw in the ways of consumer-grade wearable technologies is summarily categorized as such. Allow me to provide an example. On day two, Peter Travers, CEO of Vuzix presented "Amazing Advances in Wearable Tech and Augmented Reality." His company is working on a glasses-based augmented reality (AR), which is far beyond anything Google Glass sets out to accomplish. His goal is designer quality frames that seamlessly integrate into daily life, with full panoramic view, and here’s how one of his partner-based videos played out:

A single guy wakes up in his Manhattan high rise apartment and puts on his fashionable frames. He looks out his window and it scans the city skyline. The glasses show him the weather report and, because it’s nice out, his car automatically retracts its convertible roof.

His drive is chock full of constant information streaming at him about which lanes are available, which pedestrians to watch out for, where the police are, which turns not to take — we’re talking about absolute information overload while driving.

He arrives at a pool hall and slaps down a huge wad of cash. Every shot he makes goes in because his glasses are providing him with the perfect angles and power required for guaranteed success. He approaches a stunning female bartender. Facial recognition pulls up her Facebook profile and personal blog. "You seem like you might be a Gemini," he says. She’s astounded. And when she replies, voice pattern software tells him she’s intrigued. He invites her over.

The video concludes with her showing up at his apartment, and when his glasses have prompted him to suggest her favorite bottle of wine, she is smitten. Fade scene.

Have we found your line yet?

Do you expect public resistance to many of the promised applications of wearable technologies? Do you feel more optimistic or pessimistic about the potential around wearable technology applications for retailers now versus a year ago?

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21 Comments on "RSR Research: Does Wearable Technology Creep You Out?"


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Frank Riso
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

I agree that for personal use, some of these go over my line. However, wearable technologies in retail have been used for decades, primarily in warehouses. Wearable computers, ring scanners, and voice technology are accepted forms of wearable technology for improving productivity. Workers are hands-free when they are using wearable technology. Newer headgear for full screen computers, wearable video, and two-way voice communications are now also on the market.

Moving most of this to our personal use seems kind of “Borg-like” to me, though. I may not want to be assimilated.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

It’s one thing to have technologies like this that are obvious to anyone, but it’s a whole other issue when they’re not apparent. There are a host of technologies currently being used in stores that your grandmother probably wouldn’t approve of…and customers are going to find THEIR line pretty fast.

Ian Percy
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

There are those in the “gotta have it” crowd who get stuff because they can. But honestly, all of this reminds me of the old corporate adage “Having lost sight of our objectives, let us redouble our efforts.” There’s a lot to technology ‘busy-ness’ without much meaning or purpose to it.

Unfortunately we seem more enamored with the superfluous than with the serious—the advances that help disabled people as mentioned in Steve’s piece.

Oh…and I watched the video, but was totally focused on whether her nails were meant to look like that.

Liz Crawford
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Prediction: For every invasion of someone else’s privacy (the unfortunate bartender), there will be a “defense.”

For example, to foil tracking, I have ordered a small lead-lined pouch to carry my cellphone in. It easily fits in my purse. GPS tracking works when I want it to, not at the convenience of others, whether they are predatory marketers or predatory single guys.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

I sit here at the desk with a headset on. Why? Simple, so I never have to pick up the phone if I get a call. So, let’s start with the ability to having access to your mobile phone on the street, in the car, at the office and not ever having to reach for it. Then, take the story from there.

Heck, the future might not be in glasses. It might be in a direct connection to your brain. We can’t think of these things in today’s terms. We have to be a little Jules Verne in our projections.

And, most importantly, as Cathy said, “There are a host of technologies currently being used…that your grandmother [my mother, either] probably wouldn’t approve of…”

We always must remember that the future is not a simple projection of where we are today, in terms of technology or behavior.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Wearable technology is certainly the next wave. I do, however, agree that the visual/camera-based technologies and the scenarios presented extend way across the line.

I foresee the ‘wristwatch’ in collaboration with voice activation has tremendous potential. The ‘Pebble’ is a perfect example of this approach. Using e-paper as a display medium, this wristwatch syncs with your mobile device and e-mail and text messages. This technology and form factor could become our wallets and be the physical connection to e-payments.

One of my colleagues has been posting their experiences with Google glasses on Facebook and frankly, it’s boring and can be listed as TMI (too much information). Most of the images are ‘selfies’ wearing the glasses. It does beg the question, who will be the next Carlos Danger?

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

There may be a time and place for everything. Pocket watches were replaced by wrist watches, which are being replaced by cell phones. For the challenged, wearable technology could have significant life changing impact. For the less challenged, I am not so sure how far this will go or if it is for a very small sub-group of consumers. When we see that Facebook members are tired of reading what all their friends are doing, how long will this last?

If wearable technology simplifies life and provides for individualism, it has a chance. But if it’s to control the user, it will be short lived.

Tina Lahti
Guest
Tina Lahti
5 years 1 month ago

Wearable technology is already here. Most of us wear our iPhones in our pockets or purses. Consumers do decide on their limits pretty quickly, but society also plays a role. I remember when Bluetooth head sets were all the rage. You couldn’t take 10 steps in an airport without seeing one. Now you rarely see them in public. I suspect that lovers of that particular technology stopped using it primarily due to social shunning.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Automobiles crossed a lot of peoples’ lines, too. If it works, and helps people do what they want to do, it will be accepted. The process of finding what works will be long and messy, involving huge amounts of what will appear to be nothing but tech SPAM for most people. And finding business models to match devices/apps will be even greater challenges. But wearable technology is here to stay. Simple eyeglasses ARE wearable technology that have become integral to life for billions. It’s early times and the potential is HUGE!

Verlin Youd
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

It may take a few years, but wearable technology ubiquity is on the way, whether we like it or not.

It will be interesting to see how the social rules develop around the use of wearable technology. We are already dealing with some of the social aspects, i.e. when and where is it appropriate to wear a Bluetooth headset (obviously that line is very different depending on the user), when is it appropriate to talk on your cell phone (thank goodness it’s still not allowed during flights), and we have ongoing debates in our home about tablet use during dinner….

If we use cell phone behavior as a model, in 10+ years we’ll have 90% using wearables in a socially acceptable way, and 10% “over the line.”

Larry Negrich
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

If the wearable tech is not obtrusive, provides value, and allows a consumer to put parameters around information that outside services could receive while protecting privacy at the level the consumer is comfortable with, then I do not expect resistance.

I am very optimistic about wearables. If a wearable gives me the ability to reduce the devices I have to actively carry with a device that has build-in functionality, then I think that is an improvement and innovation that I can use. Leave the clunky mobile phone at home because everything I need is built into my glasses—you bet I would sign up for that. I would advise retailers to begin to investigate wearables to see how they might be able to leverage this technology in the future.

James Tenser
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Yikes! I just woke up inside a William Gibson novel. Augmented reality? Wearable tech sounds like demented reality, when it comes to hustling pool and hitting on chicks.

Of course the chicks will be wearing the cyber specs too—and running real-time facial recognition background checks on every salivating villain who approaches them in the bar.

(Now, in the retail environment, the implications seem somewhat less skeevy. How about a heads-up planogram display for merchandisers that leaves both hands free, instantaneously highlights voids and mislocations on the shelf and generates re-orders?)

Best of all, the great neuromancers in the sky (Google, facebook, the NSA, Russian cyber criminals and the Chinese) could track these cyber specs all over the planet. The implications are astounding. They could detect where we are, what we are looking at, what data we are accessing and who we are with at every moment.

Nothing creepy about any of that though. It’s cool tech and it’s adjustable to fit your head. Get used to it.

Carlos Arambula
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

New technology always stirs up a bit of paranoia with consumers, but ultimately the benefits win over the fear. Initially, retailers that appeal to early adopters, such as the Apple store,  will reap the benefits. Eventually the technology will gain mass appeal, be refined to popular features, drop in price, and be available in your local grocery aisle.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

When was the first wristwatch invented? Consumer adoption happens over time. Bluetooth ear pieces are worn…by geeks. Now let’s see how compelling the functionality of the newer devices is, and we’ll see how quickly the public responds. If it is a “must-have,” people won’t care HOW crazy it looks.

Vahe Katros
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

It’s easy to paint wearable tech with the [geek] brush, but wearable tech is more than glasses and augmented reality, it’s watches and wearable sensors. If iWatch and Google (android) watches win over a portion of their current audiences, we’ll have a new touchpoint to debate and a chance to coin a new buzzword. I’ll kick it off: wearetail technology. Is your stress sensor going off?

Brian Fletcher
Guest
Brian Fletcher
5 years 1 month ago

I think people would be very open to the idea of wearable technologies to drive efficiencies in work-related and mundane day-to-day tasks and activities.

Outside of these areas, especially for the more personal uses like the ones mentioned in the article, I think there’s going to be much less acceptance as it will be perceived as a violation of privacy. The interesting thing is that the majority of the personal information, like what was referenced in the article, is already available—there’s just not an easy and efficient way to obtain it.

Alexander Rink
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

I am optimistic about the potential for wearable technologies generally—I feel that it is just a matter of time before they become widespread. Public resistance will depend on what those technologies are, and what kind of personal information they will have access to. As with anything that uses personal informations, consumers, will want to have some way to opt in or out. Facial recognition, for example, doesn’t seem to have an easy opt-out just yet.

When the technology is done right, it will have some great applications for consumers, such as shopping lists, price comparisons, product information all at hand, and for retailers through capabilities such as improved merchandising displays, and cross-sell and up-sell options.

Mark Price
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Wearable technology has the potential to be extremely valuable, if not life-changing. The ability to monitor vital signs of consumers to determine health issues, the ability to change the density of cloth based on precipitation, the ability to interact with stores to provide a more customized experience and many others are very exciting opportunities for the future.

I remain very optimistic about the ability to implant sensors and transmitters in clothing to improve customer experience. The key thing is that the implantable technology must be in service of an actual improvement in experience that translates into incremental revenue. Otherwise, the initiative will never get funded.

I am waiting for the tennis racket with a sensor embedded in it to help me add more topspin to my forehand. I can’t wait!

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

I saw a demonstration of wearable technology about 32 years ago in a presentation by JPL. The labs were working on ‘electrified fabric’, woven cloth that could hold and transmit an electric charge or transmit data. They were bringing it to the design community to ask, “What can we create with this?”

Today’s technology answers some of that question.

My ‘line’ isn’t between right and wrong, but one of priorities. Let’s create solutions to make life better for those who are disabled or challenged in some way before we recreate Tony Stark ‘iron man suits’.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

I have not seen requirements for employment consideration that include “able to use a slide rule” or “strong scientific calculator experience” in any of the most recent employee recruitment searches. The information age is in its infancy. There is no stopping it except in the hearts and minds of those that can not or will not compete. Retailers need to accept the change offered by proven technological advancements or risk the onslaught of the competition that embraces it. Winning in business is a constant battle. Losing is easy, just stand still. Technology is not the “Holy Grail,” but for now it is the money tree.

Vahe Katros
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

“SpaceGlasses” – just seen at demo day at Y-Combinator – here’s a video – thought I would share.

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