Wearable Technology: Is It Really Taking Off?

Wearable technology is predicted to take off in the next couple of years, but there’s a problem: half the gadgets end up in a drawer after six months. Is there a solution?

It’s official: the Apple Watch is a style item. It’s a reasonable conclusion to draw after it made the cover of Vogue China, a magazine that has no concern for gadgets, and gives every consideration to looks. Vogue China editorial director, Angelica Cheung, called the Apple Watch “a pioneering piece of technology that also doubles as a highly covetable fashion accessory”.

This accolade is one the wearable technology industry as a whole has been itching to achieve: to be considered a good-looking piece of kit. Why is this important? As the makers of the first MP3 players learnt when the iPod arrived, it’s not enough to be first with a good idea, but it has to look sexy too. While wearable tech is predicted to kick off in the next couple of years, there is still a little skepticism in terms of the timing.

The wearable tech industry has a dirty secret. Its users are promiscuous in that they lose interest in their gadgets after six months. This was the conclusion of a study by Endeavour Partners which asked over 6000 people about their wearable habits. “A surprising percentage of devices in the market first fail to achieve even short term engagement for many users, because they suffer from one or more fatal user experience flaws, Dan Ledger, principal at Endeavour Partners, told ‘TechRepublic’.

Endeavour’s research found that the gadgets which did best were the ones that fulfilled a need not delivered by a smartphone. The most common flaws found among wearables were:

  • “too easy to break or lose”;
  • “not waterproof”
  • “they’re uncomfortable to wear”
  • “the battery runs out too fast”
  • “they’re a pain to sync with your phone or computer”

However this hasn’t deterred manufacturers.

January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) had over a dozen new wearables on display, mostly wrist-based but also some interesting alternatives, such as

  • Belty (to monitor the waistline) and
  • Ring (to control the lights in your house).

But even manufacturers are struggling to work out exactly what people want from their wearable. According to ‘Geek’, Samsung is working with sales staff to pinpoint why the Galaxy Gear watch is seeing a 30% return rate to BestBuy shop locations.

The solution to the wearables’ conundrum may lie somewhere in the fact that this kit is a very personal thing, meaning the user not only has to derive good use from it, but they also basically have to love it. That means it has to look and feel great on the wrist, and it has to go beyond gimmicky and be genuinely useful; it has to capture the love that a user has with their phone.

“This is the least predictable part,” Idris Mootee, CEO of experience design firm IdeaCouture, wrote in ‘FutureLab’: “The most successful wearable would be those who can influence our behaviour as a mechanism for human behaviour change and reinforcement. The subconscious mechanisms by which a human brain forms habits are still a bit of a mystery, and this can let us down a path to come up with devising tools for changing them.”.

After all, just having a bracelet informing you that you’re not sleeping properly isn’t really helpful. If gadget designers can come up with a way to empower the individual to affect change in their lives, maybe then will we have a wearable technology revolution on our hands.

These gadgets have to go one step beyond just collecting data to actually presenting it to the user in such a way that it can inspire behavioural change.

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