Wearable devices: Interesting, but don't bet the farm

Wearable devices: Interesting, but don't bet the farm

Summary: There is no doubt that there's a lot of money to be made in wearables, but rush to market with the wrong product, service, or app and it's a guaranteed way to lose a lot of money, and fast.

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TOPICS: Mobility
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All signs point to the fact that wearables are going to be bursting onto the scene over the coming months in the form of smartwatches, fitness devices, and medical devices. There will no doubt be an almost irresistible temptation for companies – ranging from hardware makers to developers – to try to turn on a dime and head off into this new and exciting direction.

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And all that is cool, just don't bet the farm on this stuff being as big as the people pushing it tell you it might be.

I'm cautious about wearables – and I encourage others to be careful too – because while wearable computing devices seem like a totally new market that has evolved out of post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets, they're not. Recent consumer tech history is littered with the corpses of wearable devices. Over the years I've seen things ranging from MP3 players fitted into glasses and watches to wearable fitness devices that log distance travelled, steps taken, route taken, and so forth. Some of these devices were a good idea, others not so much.

Another reason I urge restraint when it comes to wearables is the mixed success with which other smart devices have been received. Again, there have been countless smart devices unleashed on a market that didn't ask for them, didn't want them, and didn't buy them.

Want another example? Take smartphones and tablets. While these devices had been around for years, it was Apple that truly took them mainstream. After that, a whole raft of companies jumped on Android bandwagon as they hoped to cash in. While we have a lot of players still duking it out, they are all trailing a far behind Samsung.

Another example is the app phenomenon. Apps existed long before the iPhone, but it was Apple that made them mainstream. Pretty soon, everyone wanted their own apps and app stores, and while some gained a foothold – such as Android and the Amazon app ecosystems – others have had a tougher time – for example, the Windows and Windows Phone ecosystems – while others died completely – think BlackBerry PlayBook or HP TouchPad.

There is no doubt that there's a lot of money to be made in wearables, but rush to market with the wrong product, service, or app and it's a guaranteed way to lose a lot of money, and fast.  

So, what's going to be the big hit with wearables and what's going to sink without a trace? Well, if I knew that I'd be hip-deep in the market. However, given what I know of the current playing field, I think we can draw a few conclusions.

  • There are no guarantees, and even good products will flounder. The first year to 18 months is going to be a bloodbath.
  • If your wearable device or app for a wearable device does nothing more than duplicate something that a smartphone or tablet can already do, but on a smaller screen, it's likely to die.
  • People are going to want wearables to do everything, and so the design has to allow headroom for this. Also, eary adopters are going to demand new to remain interested. You have to deliver.
  • Medical is a risk-filled sector but it's the area I think most likely to pay off, if for no other reason that it is easier to make people freaked out about their health than anything else. Blood pressure, blood glucose, weight, cholesterol and so on are obvious metrics.
  • The fitness market is another worth looking at, but it is also a fickle one. Style and "wow factor" dominate, and this means that the lifespan of devices can be limited.
  • Fashion is a very fickle market. I would expect a few hits here, but a lot of misses.
  • The market will get crowded really fast, and this will drive prices down aggressively over a short period. The window for making a profit is short.
  • There is likely to be an aggressive upgrade cycle, shortening the profit window even further.

Remember, the "if you build it, they will come," philosophy is only guaranteed works in Field of Dreams.

Topic: Mobility

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10 comments
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  • Not a fan

    All of the devices I have seen so far seem rushed and impractical.
    anonymous
  • I'm still not seeing it

    I tried, I really did, to see how wearables could provide some kind of benefit over smartphones and other devices. Try as I might, I just can't. From a style point of view, the look so ... 1970s Casio. When I saw the first Android watches, my first thought was "Didn't this go out with Members Only jackets?" They're frankly ugly and look cheap, but I'm not sure a Rolex makeover would improve much.
    Njia1
  • Cheap Wearables Idea For Accessory Makers

    Don't bother with special "wearable devices" badly duplicating some smartphone features, it's a dead end.
    Make smartphones wearable - produce a slew of forearm-mounted holders for smartphones!
    Make these holders as diverse as any other kind of smartphone accessory. You are not risking anything, really.
    BaldObserverInBlackHat
  • I can't wait....

    ... To get up in the morning and make sure I put on my smartwatch, smartglasses, smartshirt, and you can't forget your smarthat! What else is going to keep you and your friends apprised about your health! Those tweets and Facebook updates aren't going to send themselves. ;)
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • And don't forget the last item on that list

      The SmartAss.

      Everybody knows one in their circle of friends.

      :)
      William.Farrel
  • Duplicating functions

    I had what I would consider a wearable in a Timex Datalink watch from 1997. Great watch and holding it up to a CRT so by a series of flashing lights it would transfer appointments and other data from my computer was way cool. Technically wireless! But now that a smartphone does all that there is no reason for the watch. What I've seen with most wearables is they just duplicate what is on the smartphone. And I have to imagine that that Bluetooth talk between the devices is no good for the phone. I'll pass.
    boomchuck1
  • meh

    TLDR
    CornheadsBack
  • I agree its mostly a fail for now

    There a couple of reasons for the ones out there now. (1) Just another thing to suck the life out of the phone's battery. If it exists, it needs to completely eliminate the need for the phone itself. (2) Need. Why do I need an appendage to my phone? Oh, to look like a dweeb trying be Dick Tracy. Maybe monitor my heart rate. Wow. (3) Size. I have an iphone, and everyone is carrying around even larger android phones. The trend is More screen size - note less. So smartwatches already have that against them - sheer tiny size is not favored. (4) Style. It's been said here already, but this is awfully reminiscent of those dorks who insisted their watches that could play crudely-pixeled games were absolutely necessary and the future.
    D.J. 43
  • Practical, multifunctional and stylish

    Remember how the iPod changed one's behavior, appealed to everyone because of it's practicality? Here's one I wouldn't mind trying out: iPal. Came across them during GoogleGlass discussions on Twitter (@meetipal). Eye tracking and eye gesture controls. No display, which is fine with me. I want to create content, not take it in every second of the day.
    akb2b
  • Not For Me

    I went from an iPhone to a Windows phone, because the iPhone display was too small. A watch display just would not work for me.
    lloydkuhnle@...