By Nora McCarten
Nike Fuelband. Google Glass. Samsung Gear. Wearable tech has stepped off the sidelines and into the spotlight. In the past year alone, digital mentions of wearable tech devices have increased 190%, according to a study by Brandwatch. These numbers lead many to believe that the wearable tech sector will be a 50 billion dollar industry within the next few years and that 19 million connected devices will be in circulation by the end of 2014.
However, despite all these promising figures and predictions, the question still remains: are these devices even necessary? Unlike smartphones, which offer essential communication services, wearable tech still seems to be an illusion to some. While a few wearable tech devices have been successful, they haven’t experienced the widespread acceptance that products like the iPad and Nook have had. Despite their lukewarm reception, tech manufacturers continue to strive for that shining star product, the one that will revolutionize the industry as the iPhone did for the cellular market.
One of the first items dubbed as “wearable tech” was the fitness band. Jawbone, an original fitness band competitor, has recently released the UP24, an updated model that monitors the wearer’s eating, sleeping and movement patterns. This detailed documentation raises the argument over whether wearable tech is helpful or intrusive. Is it really necessary to know how many calories were in that burger, or is ignorance bliss? This intrusion factor, a standard of wearable tech, has prevented the industry from flourishing as many predicted it would. Another factor precluding greater success is the popularity of apps, which can track much of the same data for free.
Leading the wearable tech surge along with fitness bands are smart watches. Apple’s highly anticipated “iTime” smart watch was recently awarded a patent that had been filed in 2011, meaning we could be see the iTime on shelves within the next few months. From what information Apple has released about the watch, it seems that its functionality mimics that of a smart phone—email, GPS, media storage, accepting or declining phone calls—impressive for a watch, perhaps, but why spend hundreds on the iTime when your iPhone can already do all this and more? Just as apps have prohibited fitness bands from becoming a real necessity, there is a good chance that Apple’s own smart phone will hinder the success of its smart watch.
While some wearable tech fails to offers anything new or special, other items serve a justifiable purpose. The Navigate GPS jacket is the latest innovation from Australian trailblazer We::Ex (Wearable Experiments). Based on the idea that you really can’t find where you’re going if your head is buried in the navigation system of a phone, the Navigate jacket uses the sense of touch to deliver directions. Users download the compatible mapping app and plug in their destination address. Wireless synergy between the jacket and app help deliver instructions directly to the wearer; as they start walking or biking, the system picks up a location signal. LED lights in the jacket’s sleeve illuminate to alert the wearer of an upcoming turn. Upon reaching the intersection where the route changes, vibration technology in the shoulder pads instructs which direction to turn in- a “tap” on the left shoulder means turn left, one on the right shoulder means turn right. Aside from the fact that GPS users can now see where they’re going, the Navigate jacket is also stylish, coming in either hot pink or royal blue with white stripes on the sleeves.
When it comes to wearable technology, consumers want devices that simplify life instead of complicating it. As of now, it seems the market is overcrowded with a variety of devices that claim to improve one’s lifestyle, but don’t fully deliver on those promises. But we’re betting this is soon to change.