To succeed, wearable tech must become invisible

We’ve passed the fad phase: Nobody’s impressed if you’re wearing a tracker on your wrist or hip to count your steps / tally your abs / count your heartbeats as you work out. And despite a few brave attempts, fashionistas haven’t latched on to the silicon wristband as the must-have accessory of the season.

So now what for smart wristbands, the poster child of the first wave of wearable technology?

The answer is that wearables must become invisible.

As we’ve documented, even a simple “step counter” worn on the wrist or waist is able to track quite a lot of personal data. Health insurers are already falling over themselves trying to give away free fitness apps such as Cue – not only for wearable tech users, but for all smartphone users.

As consumers start to realize that their wearables are creating a gold mine of personal data, it’s going to be increasingly important for organizations to get smarter about how they’re providing true value in exchange.

In order to be truly ubiquitous, wearables must blend into the background – to the point that we forget they’re there.

Yours for $295 - the new PoloTech smart shirt from Ralph Lauren

Yours for $295 – the new PoloTech smart shirt from Ralph Lauren

This has a number of implications.

Battery life will have to improve: It’s hard to get into the habit of relying on a device that beeps every other day because it needs charging – or, worse still, simply fades away. Such a dependence on charging is also going to increase the chances that a device will be forgotten at home, still plugged in on the nightstand.

Misfit, Fitbug and Withings all opted for a replaceable long-life button battery instead of a built-in rechargeable Li-ion.

Wearables will have to blend in more: Five years from now, the chunky smart wristband will already be a thing of the past – or will look completely different.

Maybe the smartphone will take over, after all: Millennials are rarely without their mobile, which is just as capable of counting steps as a wristband. It’s also technically possible to track pulse rates from the ear – meaning that ear buds could do the job just as well as a band.

Clothing will increasing incorporate smart technology: Seen a jogger wearing one of those clunky black bands with a heart-rate monitor recently?

They are on the decline thanks to smart watches that do the job of heart-rate monitoring (HRM) – such as the TomTom Spark, which tracks in real time, and the Apple Watch.

There are also entire ranges of sports clothes with built-in HRM, like those from new firms NuMetrex (which makes branded apparel for Adidas) and OmSignal, which has teamed up with Polo Ralph Lauren to create a smart shirt which tracks not only heart rate but also breathing and stress levels during a workout.

Rachel Kalmar's datapunk quantified self sensor array -image courtesy of Cory Doctorow

Rachel Kalmar’s datapunk quantified self sensor array (image courtesy Cory Doctorow)

Use cases will need to be more clearly defined: Most people aren’t going to adopt a wearable without a clear reason to do so.

The successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign by Wear proved this – the company raised $40,000 to develop a wearable personal assistive listening device, an affordable, attractive, lightweight wearable assistive directional microphone designed to improve quality of hearing.

To achieve this, we’ll need to be sure we can trust companies with our data: As wearable technology blends in, consumers will need to see the value before they entrust their data to vendors.

There’s also a thin line between a smart device providing proactive advice – for example, in showing a user that they have an abnormality in their sleep pattern – and the same device providing a sponsored recommendation to consult a specific doctor to get expert medical advice for the same problem.

That’s a challenge the healthcare industry is going all-out towards solving.

To further explore the topic of how wearables can become invisible, join WTW editor Simon Jones at the Nordic Enterprise Mobility Forum (NEM360) in Stockholm in February.

/WTW

 

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