Weighing the Shortcomings of Wearable Tech
You'd think by now we'd all be peering through Google Glass and ordering tacos with our Apple Watches or whatever. To the gadget industry's surprise, however, the world has reached the point where only the most die-hard iFans are still using Apple Watch, and Google Glass didn't really catch on even among dedicated Googlites.
On the whole, wearable tech has a tendency to "fad out," being adopted at first only by technophiles and/or people with large amounts of disposable income before taking up permanent residence in the lowest desk drawer three months later.
Understanding why that happens is critical to any hardware engineer or app designer. While the market certainly is fickle, we might be able to use past experience to come to a better understanding of what people really want out of their wearable tech. Using the Apple Watch and Google Glass as our primary examples, let's examine a few of the essentials for good wearable tech, as well as why these devices have (so far) fallen short of the mark.
It Should Be Discreet
Tech isn't fashionable. No, your cell phone holster does NOT make you look like an urban cowboy, regardless of what your wife told you. Your cell phone cover is kinda cool, I'll admit, but its purpose is still to hide your cell phone.
"But my mobile device/new gadget/accessory is way cool!" Yes, it is. The Apple Watch was cool. Google Glass was awesome. But it's still not fashionable.
What's the difference? You may think it's really cool that your neighbor has an exact replica of Darth Vader's lightsaber, but you'd think she was a bit odd if she carried it around with her everywhere she went. Instead of trying to make gadgets look fashionable or trendy, the goal should be to make them invisible. Buyers will show them off on their own.
It Should Be Practical
Both Google Glass and Apple Watch assume that a mobile phone is a bit inconvenient, and there's an element of truth to that. It's an ugly square. You have to pull it ALL THE WAY out of your pocket to use it. Nobody has time for that! So inelegant.
And yet, its stupid, inelegant design is exactly what makes your phone so useful. You can set it by your face as you're lying down, leave it to play music on the counter as you cook, balance it precariously behind the shower head while you bathe (not recommended), or slip it discreetly into your pocket when not in use. The idea of doing any of those things with wearable tech is a bit silly.
For wearable tech to be practical, it needs to do what a smart phone can't. Bluetooth headsets accomplish this, and so while their popularity may have fallen from their heyday, they're still fairly widely used. Meanwhile, Google Glass and the Apple Watch streamlined the process of using your phone, but ultimately not enough to justify a separate gadget. Wearable tech needs to meet a need.
It Should Be Forgettable
Tech that demands your attention is gadgetry's equivalent to that scratchy sweater your mom made you wear to church as a kid (or to funerals, or whatever). You don't realize how nice it is to ignore something until it constantly demands your attention. We're looking at you, Google Glass, though the Apple Watch isn't exactly comfortable. (And at $300 to $17,000 a pop, you had darn well better not forget you're wearing it!)
Considering all three of these criteria, we can see that, while most wearable tech still misses the mark, some of the gadgets come a lot closer than others. We've mentioned the Bluetooth Headsets, and I'll throw in the FitBit as well; most models are small enough to be hidden under the clothing and be forgotten, and nobody likes to pull their phone out on the middle of a run every time they want to track their progress.
Most likely, the world-changing breakthrough in wearable tech will be smart contact lenses. Google Glass excited the world with the concept of constant augmentation, and smart lenses take that a step further. Imagine; a glance at a restaurant can reveal its menu and pricing, and a spoken command can open up navigation superimposed on the actual sidewalk or street.
You never have to scramble for your camera (just blink!) And the tech only improves from there; glucose levels can be measured from tears, eyesight can be corrected or even zoomed, and vision could be automatically adjusted for brightness. Many companies are working on the technology, including Sony, Google, and Samsung, and the first one to produce a viable commercial product will dominate the gadget market for some time.
For those interested in entering this field, both Microsoft and Apple offer certifications for mobile app developers, as does Advanced Training Consultants (for Android). Practical wearable tech may not be too far off, so it's a good time to be prepared!