Wearable computing: Is there a real market?

Moderated by Steve Ranger | August 26, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Do augmented reality headsets like Google Glass and smartwatches like Samsung Galaxy Gear herald the next wave of personal computing?

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols




Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Matt Baxter-Reynolds

Best Argument: No


Audience Favored: No (50%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Morning, August 26, 2033

Steven Vaughan-Nichols:  Yawn!

Another late morning and I've got things to do and little time to do them. So, I blink twice to get the weather report. It's going to be another nice day here, but I have a flight to New York City later today.

So, I look to the left and my flight is still on schedule, let's see look left again and up, OK, it's still on time. I had been a little worried since LaGuardia flooded last year about this same time thanks to high tides and global warming. Oh well, at least the dikes are holding around Manhattan so I don't need to worry about wading to corporate headquarters at 28 E. 28.

As I brush my teeth, I get a flicker of green in my left eye. OK, wink for half-a-second and that call goes into voicemail. That reminds me though I haven't gotten breakfast started yet. Look to the right once, tap my little finger, and the toaster and tea pot kick on.

Breakfast done, I tap twice on the dining room table and the garage door opens and the car starts. I hop in, wait for the car to load the navigation module to my Google Go Contacts, blink twice, and point at the airport on the map in "front" of my eyes and I'm on my way.

How odd to think that people actually used to use separate devices for such common every days tasks. Heck, some folks actually used to think that wearable computers wouldn't take off. How quaint!

Still, I'm not so sure about actual cyborg implants, that's a little much for me. I'll just stick with my pocket, body-heat powered do-everything computer, and my integrated contact lens and "hearing" aid.

Tech will be carried, not worn

Matt Baxter-Reynolds: Last weekend I did a piece about how I'd downsized from a "fat, 1980s style" wallet, to a thin, 2013 wallet. In it there was a mild lament about how I had to carry a wallet even though I had enough technology on me on me at all times to replace the wallet.

I love my digital life. I love having my smartphone on me all the time connecting me 24/7 to the people and things that I love. But it's nice to have it in my pocket. It's not something I necessarily want to drape all over me everytime I leave the house to go to the shops. And I'm a technologist.

The point of technology in the post-PC era is that it stays in the background until you need it. It's hidden away, but close to hand. Wearables run against this idea, trying to make the technology as much of a part of your body as can be achieved without surgery.

The market for wearables is niche. Being able to slap a camera on you when you're skiing, mountain biking, BASE jumping, etc -- that makes sense. But for day-to-day living? Nuh-uh.

See also:


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  • Remember the watch?

    Remember the watch?

    That was wearable tech before ZDNet ever even existed.

    Where are they now?

    Apparently people would rather drag through their purses and briefcases looking for their cell phones than to have the convenience of telling the time right on their hand.

    That there tells me a lot about whether people *really* want the convenience of wearable tech.

    Watches are far more convenient than a cell phone: You can see the time merely by looking at your wrist.

    But apparently we're not caring as much about convenience as tech magazines would like us to believe. We're actually very happy digging through our bags to figure out the time. I personally don't see why we don't like watches anymore, but that's the reality of the situation.
    Reply 5 Votes I'm for No
    • You are totally misconstruing why people don't wear watches

      In a world of convergence, you misconstrue the disappearance of the watch.

      A watch is a single-purpose device - it tells time.

      A smartphone is a ridiculously multi-purpose device. It can not only tell time like your watch, but it can organize it replacing your Franklin planner (when's the last time you carried one of those?). You get your news on it - and from many news sources, even. When's the last time you bought a physical newspaper? It doesn't make sense to get news from just one source - much less pay for it - much less carry and unfold and manage and dispose of a physical problem like a paper. You can even get your magazine subscriptions that way, and read books that way. How about a camera? Do you still own a separate point-and-shoot? Even if you do - which do you use more often? Do you lament not bringing your camera to parties or events? Or do you just take a few memories with the phone that's always in your pocket anyway? And how about listening to music? Do you carry a separate iPod on you? Really, do you? It's way easier than carrying all these separate things - I don't have enough pockets for that!!
      Oh yeah, and it's a phone. And you use it to message people. So it's always in your pocket. Those other things - not always on you. That makes them redundant with the functions built into that thing that always IS in your pocket.
      Each of them carries a compromise compared to a purpose built device - but collectively, each is "good enough" for our needs, and since it's already on us - "good enough!"

      Since there's so many compelling reasons to carry a smartphone, and it already tells time, wearing a watch is redundant - even if in some situations it's more convenient to look at a watch, you aren't doing it that often, and when you have to it's not a big deal to take 3 seconds to pull your phone out and look at it than it is to use 1 second to look at your watch.

      People aren't shunning wearable technology - in fact the smartphone is a big, huge embracing of convergence.

      Why SMART watches HAVEN'T taken off is because they don't replace the smartphone - they augment it. It's an extra bit that people perceive they don't need - just like wearing a watch is perceived to no longer be needed since I've always got the time available on my phone. Might some people still buy a smart watch? Of course, for the same reasons some people buy bluetooth ear dongles. It's a convenient accessory for some people's lives use cases. Might some people buy a wearable thing like Google Glass? Sure, if it makes some aspect of their lives easier or better.
      How about everyone? Not unless it could totally replace the smartphone - otherwise it's going to be perceived as redundant or not necessary or too expensive for what might be only a mild benefit for some people - just like the 2 second savings for the few times you glance at a watch throughout the day.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Newspapers

        I get a newspaper thrown in my driveway 7 days a week because they are EASIER to read; I don't want to hold a device that is 100 times heavier then my paper and a fraction of the size!

        As to watches, only idiots don't wear them!
        Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
        • A rather ignorant reply

          Only "idiots" don't wear watches, hmm? Very intelligent and mature of YOU, sir.
          And completely ignorant of the majority in society.
          We won't accuse you of being a society person.
          Or of being up on the times.

          And a paper is pretty damn heavy - a smartphone weighs a fraction of a newspaper. According to ask.com the average newspaper weighs about a pound (16 ounces). And of course your local Sunday paper is easily double that, probably triple.
          By comparison:
          An iPhone weighs 3.95 ounces.
          Even a tablet - a Nexus 7 weighs 10.2 ounces.

          But you exposed yourself as ignorant in the closer there. I expect your prejudices are what actually led you to both write that response as well as give you an excuse to not try to embrace what the rest of society is rapidly moving towards.
          Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
          • most of society IS ignorant

            in fact, most of society are not even worth saving..so that was a bad start to your argument.
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
          • Fool

            Long myopic and specious arguments. Watches will outlast tablets.
            Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • I stopped....

          ...wearing a watch when I started carrying a cell phone around, long before smartphones. I sit in front of a computer most of the workday, and when I am not, I looked at my phone if I need to know the time. A watch is an accessory like a bracelet. I don't wear bracelets.

          I stopped getting even the free paper when I bought a smartphone. I commute by bus/train into NYC and I really do not have any use for newspapers. I get all the news that I need on my phone, or on the web.

          As for the debate topic, I do not see Google Glass being more than a niche product. Unless they can make it look less obnoxious. I really don't like the whole concept, or to think people are walking around wearing these things. They might be great for tourists just walking around a city they are visiting, or as a part of tour. But I don't see people putting these on walking out the door headed to work.
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • No, the newspaper is NOT easier to read.

          It's big--in most cases large enough to physically cover the typical computer desk.
          It's flimsy--you constantly have to 'shake' the paper to restore that curve that holds the pages upright in a reading position.
          It's clumsy--you either have to fold it into quarters for easy reading or hold it up high, forcing you to crank your neck into odd angles just to read the typically tiny text.
          It's thin--with any kind of backlight page 2 or the inside back page let enough light through that the text of the front/back page is easily legible, making reading the page you want significantly more difficult
          It's disorganized--Sure, you have your Sections, but you have to scan across a lot of data you don't even want to see just to find the data you're looking for.

          As to watches; I'm not an idiot nor is my life controlled by a clock. Sure, sometimes I want to know the time, but not often enough to wear a clock on my wrist full time. Add to this the fact that some jobs require no jewelry on the hands and arms due to safety considerations (heavy equipment, repair, electrical, etc...) and it becomes the idiot that DOES wear the watch.

          You cannot make prejudicial statements like that without qualification.
          Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
        • Time to Move ...

          To the UK. Here they go to the trouble of placing your newspaper through the letterbox in your front door!
          Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
      • I'm not entirely convinced.

        "A smartphone is a ridiculously multi-purpose device. "

        My reasoning is still perfectly valid and still stands - the watch is more convenient, even if is *is* a single purpose device. Theoretically, that should be a factor. What's curious is why it apparently isn't.

        "and it already tells time, wearing a watch is redundant "

        And? It's still more convenient. The redundancy doesn't (theoretically, at least) really matter. The convenience *should* be a factor, regardless of redundancy.

        In fact, the reason why convergence is successful is BECAUSE of convenience (it's more convenient to carry around one device than 100). The "convergence" argument is merely another form of a convenience argument.

        Which leads to the question - is the convergence of the phone really more convenient than the watch? I still think there's more to it than convergence.
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided