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Wearable technology is presumably the most powerful trend in tech world this year. If you attend any Electronics Expo these days, it won’t take you longer than a minute to bump into some new form of wearable. And if experts are correct, same will apply to city streets globally soon enough. Gadget-makers are going out of their way to introduce new gadgets. All kinds of ideas are being explored, and it’s not clear yet which of them will last in the long run. Thus, the market for such technologies is largely unsettled and complex. Its potential, however, seems impressive, and revenues are predicted to hit $19 billion by 2018.
What wearables are?
By wearable computing devices we mean microcomputers that users can wear on their bodies.
They can appear in any form, with computers incorporated into clothing, jewelry, watches, eyewear, and more — all designed to be worn on the body.
We can generally divide them into 3 broad categories based on their functionality:
- Activity monitors – devices that quantify human body (anything from blood pressure and heart rate to daily steps taken and sleep quality);
- Head-mounted displays – computers attached to a human head, offering augmented reality features, and providing a user with hands-free experience (think Google Glass which provides a small computer screen overlaying wearer’s field of vision);
- Smart watches – designed for all sorts of purposes currently realized by cellphones (email and text messages alerts, for example)
How wearable devices can impact the business world?
Wearable devices have a tremendous potential to transform numerous industries.
Because such devices provide users with a hands-free option, there are many ways to make use of them at work. Workers who deal with potentially hazardous situations, wearing special equipment, are all in need of hands-free access to data via smart gadgets attached to their clothes or body parts, be it emergency personnel and rescue teams, construction or mining workers, etc. With smartglasses, technicians could consult a manual while performing repairs. Basically, any user in need of immediate access to important information from a real estate agent to a lawyer, can benefit from using wearables in the workplace. Factories could implement smart glasses for remote management of equipment or to boost workers’ productivity. Banks could encourage clients to use identity-verifying features to prevent risks of card fraud.
Medicine is one of the areas expected to be an early adopter of wearables with a huge potential impact on the whole industry. Medical trials could become more cost-effective and precise if pharmaceutical companies provided patients with wearable monitors. Hospitals could use same monitors to reduce home visits.
Large businesses, including Hyundai and Virgin Atlantic, already take first steps by partnering with mobile app development companies and developing apps to let people interact with their products remotely via watches and phones.
Where do wearables fit into the consumer market?
As for the consumer side of the market, the ultimate factors to define adoption pace for individuals are not so much price or ease of use, as one would expect, but rather fashion and cultural acceptance.
Wearables still lack nice design and intuitivism in use which helped smartphones hit it big. Companies generally deal with engineering challenges first and pay little or no attention to a so-called “cultural engineering” that would foster acceptance by mass market.
But the main challenge for a regular user is lack of a so-called “killer app”, an application for wearables that could provide a wearer with a radically different experience from that with other devices. So far, new gadgets provide much less than a regular smartphone or a tablet. Users confer they seen no point in piling up devices with no additional value. According to a recent research, more than 50% of American adults stopped using their fitness tracker, and nearly a third of those did it within first six months after the purchase.
Another consumer fear is security of personal information in wearable tech. How companies plan to use vast amounts of data collected about an individual's habits and daily activities is still in question.
Developer’s perspective: Mobile application development for wearables
Although fancy new hardware is getting all the media attention at present, as we’ve seen, it is the software that plays a key role in bringing value and innovation through brand-new devices.
However, wearables landscape is truly fragmented, and developers face numerous challenges in this area. All leading wearable gadgets run on different platforms, which implies dealing with different APIs and SDKs while developing a new application. That’s why, although market demand is high, wearable apps are still quite few.
What’s more, wearables are expected to set themselves apart from conventional tech models and extend user experience beyond that of tablet or smartphone, and this is easier said than done. Fundamentally new usage cases are rare.
A promising example could be the Allthecooks app by Google Glass. It provides a wearer with recipe instructions visible at eye-level, allowing for hands- (and hassle-) free cooking.
Some analysts think that digital identity might eventually become the long-awaited killer feature of wearables, incorporating functions of a personal ID, driver’s license, keys, credit card, and computer in one tiny device worn on the neck or wrist.
Thus, mass market adoption will happen when a combination of above-mentioned factors all match positively in a single device, providing a user with something different than anything currently available on the market. For now, wearable tech favor businesses, giving all sorts of enterprises green lights for bold action.