Americans 'mixed' on wearable tech, leaning towards skeptical

Americans 'mixed' on wearable tech, leaning towards skeptical

Summary: A new poll suggests smart watches and other wearable tech might need to overcome some barriers before they become mainstream. As usual, the kids are setting the trend.

TOPICS: Mobility
ZDNet's Rachel King giving Google Glass a run for its money. (Image: CBS Interactive)

Wearable technology, the gadgets you can wear on your wrist, wear as glasses, and other devices that can be worn on your person, may not have the consumer support first expected, if the latest poll is to be believed.

Read this

Google Glass: It's not an enterprise product, get over it

Google Glass: It's not an enterprise product, get over it

The wearable computer has many benefits. The problem is none of those bear any relevance to enterprise customers, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) may cause more problems than it's worth.

According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive over a week-long period in mid-September, out of more than 2,500 subjects, close to half of all those questioned believe wearable tech is "just a fad."

We're talking here about Google Glass, and the wearable wristbands designed primarily for fitness, as well as smart watches, such as Samsung's widely panned Galaxy Gear.

While the fitness wristbands have already taken America by storm, smart watches have yet to take off, despite the reported rush by Silicon Valley technology giants to get their products out to market.

As for Google Glass? It hasn't even been released to the public yet, with 2014 pegged for a wider release. And even then the wearable eye-glass computer isn't expected to come cheap.

There is a great deal of skepticism in where wearable tech may become useful in some capacity, with a weighted split of 40 percent agreeing and 47 percent disagreeing.

However, an interesting snippet from the poll shows that wearable tech needs to cannibalize an existing tech category, such as a smartphone or a tablet. While 38 percent agree that such a device needs to replace a device they already use, 45 percent disagree.

Breaking down the numbers a little further, there's clearly a sloping decline in terms of the generational divides:

  • 63 percent of Generation Y members (aged 18-35) are at least a little interested, with 47 percent somewhat or very interested in owning a wearable device

  • 47 percent of Generation X members (aged 37-48) are a little interested, while 28 percent are somewhat or very interested

  • 47 percent of Baby Boomers are a little interested, compared to 32 percent of Matures; and in both categories a paltry 21 percent are somewhat or very interested

The bottom line, says Harris? Technology, particularly in emerging categories, isn't cheap. And there's no clear relationship between income and interest in wearable tech may strike some as "surprising."

Also, because the category of wearable tech has yet to be carved out by the major tech manufacturers, there is a lack of clear understanding in the category as a whole, Harris said.

Topic: Mobility

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  • Well...

    "A new poll suggests smart watches and other wearable tech might need to overcome some barriers..."

    Like need?

    While the current trend is towards 'always connected', there's a line where you go from 'comfortably connected' to 'drone' and products like Glass and smartwatches may cross that line. Most people honestly don't mind pulling their phones out when they want to check something on the web. They don't mind holding their phone in their hand when navigating on foot or sticking it on a dashboard mount when driving.

    Having it in their face all the time though (Glass), not so much. And we kind of went away from having things on our wrists.

    In fact, this brings back fond memories of the arguments Zune owners had when the first version came out and didn't have a clock of any kind on it. The watch owners didn't care - those who didn't wear watches, but used their phones did (because they didn't want to pull their phones out to check the time while using their Zune). In the end, Microsoft put a clock into the Zune.

    Today, few people I know wear a watch - so the question is - how many people actually wear and use a watch *other* than as functional jewelry (ie. Rolex Oysters). I suspect it's quite a small market these days.

    Will a smartwatch make watches more popular? Well, I suspect a great deal of this feeding frenzy comes from a fluke event: the original iPod Nano. Someone noticed that this was about the size of a watch face and one of the features was a clock. They put one and one together and made a wriststrap that turned the iPod into a wristwatch - which technically made it a smartwatch.

    It got everyone's attention and since they were hauling it around as a music player anyway - putting it on their wrist was value added.

    But that's not how people who don't use media players (or use their cell phones for it) will approach the exercise. The iPod Nano wriststraps turned something you already had into a smartwatch... if you bought an iPod Nano, you were already predisposed to carrying two different devices: a music player and a phone. Most people aren't. They're consolidating down to one device or two if the two provide significantly different use cases (phone and tablet for example).

    Glass on the other hand has other negatives. It's awkward. It disrupts social conventions. It's distracting. That's not to say it won't find a market - but this idea that we'll all be walking around with Glass or something like it is a fantasy. There are lots of vertical markets for it - but a general product - something we'll all be wearing 24/7? Unlikely.

    Again, it's solving a problem most of us don't have in a way I suspect most of us, once we try it for a while, won't want.
  • Wearable tech

    I wear my smartphone in my shirt pocket. Does that count? With it there I see no need for a smart watch, or Google glass. I do like the idea of a HUD display on glasses with bluetooth or wifi to my smartphone though.
    • Wearable devices.

      I agree that I would like an interface-HUD display with Bluetooth or wifi, but I don't need another phone or equivalent to pack around with my already overloaded gadgets.
    • HUD

      I wear prescription glasses. I have no interest in Google Glass. Too expensive, and all I'd really want would be the HUD feature. But at 4hours of battery life, not really worth while either. It's bad enough when I need to tether my phone (such as when driving with the GPS on which really kills my battery). The last thing I want is to need to tether my head as well.

      The question really becomes, do we need our tech to be truly hands free? Most of us do not.
  • skeptical

    I too fall under the category of skeptical. I’m sure its inevitable though.
  • Before universal acceptance can happen

    there are going to have to be changes in the hardware, and displacement is inevitable.

    For starters the interfaces we use are not ideal for wearable tech. Speaking from personal experience as an 'ambassador' to wearable devices (I've worn computing hardware for a number of years, long before it became fashionable even to inveterate geeks like myself) there needs to be a better input paradigm.

    It wasnt so long ago that a physical keyboard was a necessity for a computer but that isnt the case now. We have touchscreens that combine display and keyboard and work well enough to displace the hardware keyboard that just wont fit into the mobile environment. I wear a Nokia E7 which although bulky, has what I need. But I did have to significantly reprogram the thing before it became useful. I chose it initially for its awesome keyboard hidden under the display as well as an ability to run Python with enough integration to replace standard functions.

    Here's what I've learned...

    It needs to communicate with other methods than simply visual, I've utilised the vibration function and expanded it to provide haptics (feedback, like bumping the device when a virtual key is pressed) when using speech recognition so I know it has understood me. It transfers sound into lower frequency so I can feel the sounds my voice makes through my wrist. It's surprisingly natural and less intrusive than having to look at the screen as visual confirmation.

    It needs a degree of intelligence we are not used to. Machine learning is still in infancy and is untrusted. A lot of people simply wont like the idea that their phone knows their routines and does things without explicit instruction. That however is changing, with computer control in our cars that can park unaided we are beginning to trust the computer to do that for us, and just let it get on with it. Smartphones and cameras routinely take photographs and make a much better job of it than a simple point-and-shoot system because the bulk of the work is implicit. Light levels, red-eye, vibration, focusing and even composition are performed by software to enable point-and-shoot without the user specifying anything.

    Gestural input is another. Its a simple matter to read the positional sensor and switch the screen off while moving about, and on when my arm is raised into position as if to look at the time. When a scheduled event happened, I used to have to lift my arm, swipe the slider to enable the display and then touch something on the screen to tell the device I was aware of it, then swipe the slider to disable the screen again. That has been replaced by bumping my wrist and optionally making a sound. I lift my arm and the display comes on until I lower it again, then it switches off automatically. Different events feel different and dont always require me to look at the device. Some do and require a shake of my wrist to cancel, others just lowering it.
    It also knows when it is on my wrist or not, and behaves accordingly. It shouts for attention when something happens and it's not on my arm, and only uses haptics when it is. (I had a few problems developing the vibration, and found it on the floor a couple of times after it vibrated itself off a tabletop...)

    Face recognition would be nice, I can make it recognise a face is present, but it isnt fast enough to work out whose face that is. Let alone work out my expression... Frowning at an interruption after I raised my arm would be useful to cancel calls from certain people at certain times without black/whitelisting them, or setting global exclusions manually. Not so long ago it was a novelty to discard a call by just turning a phone face down, now it is commonplace and not much less intrusive than cancelling the call from a button press.

    Detecting noise levels and setting the volume for the sounds it makes is another thing I'd need a faster processor for as well but would be extremely useful. It didnt take much work to access the GPS and figure out when I am at home or elsewhere and react accordingly by not announcing the name of a known caller in public. That is a stop-gap though, and isnt that reliable without a good lock. It can only guess I'm still at home from the last known position before it lost sight of the signal, and can be fooled by getting into a car and driving somewhere from home.

    These kind of things are relatively simple to program for, but most are only useful on a wearable device and just havent been thought about much. One thing I'd like to see on standard smartphones is a proximity sensor for when you are walking in crowds and trying to text. Flashing a portion of the border in the direction of an obstacle (or detecting another equally oblivious texter) would put an end to most of the conflict. I'm a little guilty of it myself and would like an alternative to 'watch where you're going, idiot'...

    Just takes a little thought to make wearable tech useful, I'm sure there are many other things that can be done but havent been thought of before.
  • It's got a ways to go

    However, given the pace of technological development, a "ways to go" might translate into 5 years or considerably less.