The 2.0 era is an odd paradigm. The rate of development in technology, research and innovation is at such a pace that we must constantly remark upon it, wonder at it, and never quite get used it. Our ideas of the future are in fact mostly references from the past. ‘It’s like Minority Report!’ we say, ‘Dick Tracey is back!’. So much so, that the newest round of personal and portable gadgetry looks a whole lot like objects we already own.
2013 appears to be becoming the year of wearable tech, abounding in release and rumour; Pebble, the ridiculously hyped smart watch (that Kickstarter project); Google Glass, with the first call for explorers; and a fresh set of iWatch rumours from Apple, are all making us start to rethink some fairly old ideas.
In terms of actually using these devices, it feels to me like a natural progression. Increasing numbers of us already live our lives, at least in relations to communication and media, through mobile devices. According to Google, 90% of our daily media interactions are now screen based, and the majority of those are through a mobile phone. Our services and daily activities are becoming more portable and easier to share; no longer confined to a fixed point, be it shop, screen or device.
The exciting aspect of the wearable tech trend, is that it appears to be user driven. Companies have been trying to push smart products at us for years, only for them to be resigned to the back of the ‘gadget gift’ section when they just didn’t sell. Samsung launched it’s first wristwatch phone way back in 1999, Microsoft, Sony Erricson, Blackberry, Motorola and Casio have all put their ‘next big thing’ products to market, and that’s without mentioning the less, shall we say, useful offerings.
Eric Migicovsky, co-founder and CEO of Pebble nailed why wearable technology is now starting to make a breakthrough, stating “People won’t tolerate something bad being attached to their body.” In other words to create a truly marketable piece of wearable technology it must be just that; wearable.
New products like Pebble have been made deliberately as basic as possible – acting as an update service, linked to a primary device. Google Glass also appears to have a very narrow offer of image and video capture and display, connected elsewhere. This takes on board lessons from the desktop to tablet device transition; treating a new platform as a separate entity with separate needs, rather than repurposing old technology or just making everything smaller.
Practicality is paramount; case and point fitness trackers have been consistently successful; Nike Fuel has been quietly paving the way for quantified self, and sports applications are changing the way we monitor health. Elsewhere developers are utilising wearable devices to build targeting systems for soldiers, visual aides for Firefighters, inbuilt displays for HUD ski goggles and innovative new forms of gestural control. These and many other examples are rapidly changing the way we define ‘mobile’.
The key to taking wearable technology out of science fiction and into marketable products may well be the scaling back of what old movies say it should do (though yes, holograms would be cool) and start asking the customer what it needs to do, now.