While 2014 was dubbed “The Year of the Wearable” by tech experts and publications, engadget referred to 2015 as “The Year That Wearables Begin to Grow Up” (a fact we’ve noted in previous articles). In fact, the technology has truly started to come into its own, and consumers have noticed, with 48% claiming they would buy a wearable this year.
However, as various industries have clamored to jump on the tech train, acknowledging the indisputable fact (and even more indisputable numbers) that wearables are the go-to technology of the future, the resulting products included not only innovative, user-friendly ideas that flourished but also concepts doomed to flop.
Here we take a look at wearable tech that’s hitting it out of the park, attempts that were a little misguided, and insight from our own team of experts on what we can expect for the future of wearables.
THE BIG FISH
While in a perfect world, this would be a Disney movie-esque scenario with the underdog coming out on top, with their progression from in-pocket to on-wrist, Apple appears to be winning in the wearable arena.
According to Tech Radar, the Apple Watch sold more in one day than Android Wear did in a year, while Fortune.com reported June 15th that Americans have bought 2.79 million Apple Watches. From a revenue-oriented perspective, that clearly indicates success, but is that due to a user-friendly product or the loyalty of the cult of Apple users?
In 2012, The Smithsonian wrote that “Steve Jobs’ love of simplicity fueled a design revolution,” and according to a 2014 article in Fortune, better than one in four Americans owns an iPhone, but even for iPhone owners, the transition to the watch isn’t 100 percent natural and the interface not as intuitive as other Apple products. According to reviews, there’s a definite learning curve, but with the recently announced watchOS 2, one can expect that Apple will attempt to perfect what’s already a pretty impressive wearable.
In the end, this New York Times review probably sums it up best: while the watch may take a few days to fully master, the product eventually becomes “something like a natural extension of [the wearer’s] body.”
Which we can probably all agree that, on the user-friendliness and integration scheme, is the real goal of wearable technology.
In terms of overall user experience and general prevalence, wearables definitely worth acknowledging include fitness trackers. While here at Chaotic Moon we’ve dabbled in fitness trackers win the form of Fitcoin, which pays the user in bitcoin based on the intensity of their workout, here we’re talking big players on the market now like Fitbit and Jawbone, particularly given the former’s recent markers of success. The fitness tracker, founded in 2007, recently raised its IPO price range before going public and, CNN reports, soared 20% on its second day on the market. Projected sales? One billion dollars. (Without comment, we will acknowledge the fact that Fitbit has been accused by Jawbone of stealing information.)
There’s no denying that Fitbit does what it does quite well. It’s easy to use, it syncs with the user’s other devices, and there’s a social element–all factors that make for a positive user experience, which is key for any type of technology to be successful. What’s interesting to note, however, is the product’s lifespan on the wearer’s wrist: 70% who bought a device in the first three-quarters of the year admitted that by the end of the year they were no longer using it.
That said, despite the fact that price points for fitness trackers are admittedly lower—and therefore, their accessibility higher—than that of the Apple Watch, there’s no denying the all-in-one appeal of the latter. And while probably not considered direct competitors, the Apple Watch does possess a fitness element with built-in features like an accelerometer, heart rate monitor, etc., and allows the wearer to track their activity. In fact, it’s quite possible that, as users seek to whittle their way down to one-stop-shop devices, these developments might cause some trouble for fitness trackers in their own niche.
(Though, for the record, Fitbit CEO James Park told CNBC he has faith his company can stay competitive even as all-purpose wearables enter the market.)
In addition to physical fitness, many companies are pioneering apps for mental fitness. One device of the sort is the Melon, which allows the wearer to train their brain with games and routines and “track their focus” during activities of their choosing.
While a novel idea with potential, the immediate problem with the Melon is one of design–not from a technical perspective, but on the style front. After all, despite the cool factor associated with knowing how everything from your mood to your coffee consumption affects your focus, the bottom line with wearables is that they have to be something users would actually want to wear. That was also one of the reasons Google Glass didn’t take off. The incredible possibilities the technology offered didn’t outshine the less-than-appealing aesthetic and the “glasshole” reactions the wearable spawned.
Meanwhile, though the $10,000 gold Apple Watch edition was mocked (with hilarious results) when it was announced in March, the fact of the matter is that popular wearables like this one, (along with Fitbit, etc.) boast designs that ensure the wearable isn’t just one the user is comfortable wearing but, in many cases, is often proud to wear.
After all, while we can probably all agree that the potential to monitor our focus is cool, it doesn’t supercede how uncool it would be to look that space age-ish while typing away at your local Starbucks.
While wearables are undoubtedly the technology of the future—and more and more the go-to tech of the present—there are certain rules in design and overall experience that need to be implemented to ensure a wearable’s success. A product needs to be easy to use, attractive and, as the Times columnist put it, essentially an extension of the wearer.
But what could potentially be considered the ultimate goal in wearable technology, according to Chaotic Moon creative technologist Eric Schneider, is implementing it in a way that’s natural…and essentially invisible.
“Everyone has this idea of the future as this guy with Google Glass and the Apple Watch and five Fitbits,” Schneider said, “but the goal is really wearable technology that you can’t even see.”
“It’s circuitry woven into the fabric of a shirt,” the creative technologist continued, “or a belt that’s collecting energy to charge your devices–but a belt that looks like an actual belt. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to integrate something else in your life; the technology should just enhance what you already have. That’s the future of wearables: total integration and essential invisibility.”
Want more info on the world of wearables? Check out 20+ Undeniable Ways in Which Wearables Are the Go-To Tech of the Future and 9 Design Tenets for Creating Wearables People Will Want.