Fad or Future?
Fad or Future?
Capturing our imaginations in films such as Star Trek, Back to the Future II and Iron Man, wearable technology has now well and truly transitioned from fiction to reality. Gaining steady momentum in recent years thanks to popular fitness tracking devices from Fitbit and Jawbone, the buzz surrounding wearable technology went into overdrive this year with the release of the Apple Watch. Despite mixed responses from technology commentators, it is safe to say that wearables are the next frontier for consumer technology growth. And it seems Australians are leading the early adoption charge with an impressive 35% of us having used some form of wearable technology. In coming years the local wearables market is expected to grow by 78% to revenues of $1 billion which presents opportunities for Australian businesses across a range of sectors to consider the role of wearables in their strategies.
Already we’ve seen some fantastic local innovations in the wearables sector in both hardware and software. Rip Curl recently launched a fully integrated wearable experience for surfers with the SearchGPS Watch, and accompanying application, that allows surfers to track, log and share information about their surf sessions, keeping the Rip Curl brand strongly connected to the lives of its users.
A number of Australian companies have also been active in the development of applications for wearable platforms. The likes of Pocketbook, Woolworths and Domain were all quick to offer apps for the Apple Watch upon its release this year. It is indeed encouraging to see local innovation in the wearable technology space, but before companies jump on the bandwagon it is important to evaluate their approach to delivering sustainable value.
To get to the heart of wearables and their value, it is important to understand their place amongst wider technology trends. Gartner’s recent ‘Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle’ placed wearable technology at the very peak of inflated expectations, indicating that as wearables become more extensively adopted by the market in coming years, much of the hype will fall away as users determine the value of these technologies in their lives.
Over a similar period of time, the cluttered wearable device market will also be consolidated as leading device formats and brands rise to the top. With these trends in mind, the challenge for businesses currently contemplating entry into the wearables market is to develop valuable offerings that can be sustained once the hype has dissipated. So where do the opportunities lie and how exactly should businesses approach the wearables market?
No wearable format is more essential to daily life than clothing itself, so why not put that faithful pair of jeans to work? That’s what Levi’s and Google are planning to do with Project Jacquard. With specially developed conductive yarns that can be used with traditional manufacturing equipment, garments of all shapes and sizes can be transformed into interactive surfaces. In its early stages though, the success of interactive clothing will ultimately be determined by the value of the benefits delivered to end users. Do people really want to stroke their shoulder to answer their phone? Solutions should be more than simple gimmicks if they are to warrant investment.
More familiar in the wearables space however, are devices that measure biometric data for health and fitness. Well known in the wrist wearable format, such devices are now being incorporated into garments targeted specifically to the sport and fitness market. With a myriad of new brands entering this market, even iconic fashion brands have joined the race. Ralph Lauren is set to publicly release its Polo Tech Shirt which will measure a range of biometrics data and Victoria’s Secret has developed a sports bra that monitors heart rate. But as with interactive clothing, the value of these devices is directly linked to end user benefits. Sustained success with biometric wearables will rely heavily on the ability of devices to measure comprehensively and deliver meaningful interpretation of data beyond simple self quantification.
While innovations across an array of wearable formats continue to hit the market, the battle for the wrist remains the focus of public attention. Extending the functionality of popular wrist worn fitness trackers, by incorporating major elements of smartphone interactivity, smartwatches have been billed as the next big thing in convergent devices. However, despite optimistic predictions, the market is still in the discovery phase as consumers evaluate the importance of smartwatches in their crowded device ecosystems.
While the jury may be out on the usefulness of smartwatches, the major of manufacturers have weighed in and competition is already fierce. Once the dust settles and leading smartwatch platforms have been identified, the stage will be set for growth in the development of smartwatch applications.
Amongst the hype and uncertainty surrounding wearables, it is clear that consumer insights and user validation will be key to developing sustainable offerings. Assuming the common definition of wearable technology as wearable, controllable and enhancing, companies must now focus on delivering products that truly enhance the lives and experiences of users beyond gimmicks. As the smartphone before it, wearable technology must solve meaningful problems and carve out its place as a necessity for users.