Android

The unpopular take on wearable technology

The state of wearable tech is always in flux. Jack Wallen offers up his take on this technological wonder that might not settle well with manufacturers and lovers of all things wearable.

Wearables

I remember getting my first calculator watch in middle school. I also had a Space Invaders-like game watch. Wow, they were cool! Having those tiny modern marvels wrapped around my wrist brought me a level of cool I never would have had otherwise.

Or so I thought.

And that calculator watch? I would rise above the competition in algebra as if I were a genius, and no one else had ever thought of cheating on tests with the likes of a watch.

Or so I thought.

You see, wearable tech is nothing new — and neither is the mountainous climb it has before it. Back in the 1980s, the idea of those tiny games and calculators were amazing, until you used one for long enough and realized just how frustrating it was touching tiny buttons to navigate through useless and confusing menus.

Fast forward to the new, and you'll find that the stats tell a very similar tale. At the moment, Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike bands make up 97% of wearable sales. Not surprisingly, 80% of users stop using those devices after six months.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here's the thing — people love the idea of wearable technology. Go-go gadget anything makes life infinitely cooler. However, the reality is that most wearables have very limited screen real estate and frustrating sync/connectivity issues. Honestly, wearable watches are already obsolete (for most users), because the smartphones they need to connect with are infinitely better suited for the task.

The nirvana of wearable tech — a smartwatch as a complete replacement for the smartphone — is light years away. The technology is just not there yet. On top of that, there's the issue of fashion. Go to your local mall and find a department store that sells high-end watches. The gender divide alone places a vast cavern of "impossible" between the idea and reality of smartwatches. Most women do not want to wear a belt buckle-sized watch. Most men that consider themselves watch aficionados aren't about to purchase something unless it follows a Tag Heuer-esque design scheme. At its very basic element, smartwatch makers have a major hurdle to overcome — taste. That's not easy, and so far, the offered smartwatch designs simply fail.

In my opinion, companies that design and manufacture wearable technology should focus less on trying to create a replacement for the smartphone and more on devices that can actually serve a purpose in ways nothing else can. For example:

  • Location sensors for children (and adults in some circumstances)
  • Impact sensors for the likes of NFL helmets (and other sports-related issues)
  • Improved pacemakers
  • Hiking tools
  • Law enforcement accountability

As a runner, I would love a piece of wearable tech that could monitor the impact of different strides and styles and how it affects my body. Or imagine the health industry gaining a tool that would be able to scientifically measure the effects of long-term wearing of high heels on the feet and back. These are the kinds of things where wearable tech could seriously excel.

Replacing that Moto X or iPhone? I don't think wearables will ever truly gain much traction. No matter how much they can cram into those tiny devices, consumes will always need more. Smartphones grow and shrink in size, based on what manufacturers think the consumer wants. Apple swore they'd never create a bigger iPhone, but they did. Why? Because average consumers are using their devices to watch movies. Have you ever tried to watch a movie on a screen the size of a watch?

I realize that, at the moment, no one is trying to actually replace the smartphone with a watch. What they are doing is trying to enhance the experience:

  • Answering phone calls with your watch
  • Seeing notifications without having to pull your phone out of your pocket

To the former, the sound quality on a smartwatch is just nowhere near useable. For the latter, we aren't that lazy... yet.

What I would like to see is a sort of modular take on wearable tech. Sell singular purpose smartwatches, each that does one function and does it very well:

  • Answer calls
  • Display notifications
  • Serve as a mic for Google Now
  • Send tracking data to phone

Sell interchangeable bases for a single band, and consumers can get exactly what they want out of their smartwatch and nothing more. Trying to cram too much into too little is a hurdle that I don't think the manufacturers will manage to leap anytime soon.

What do you think? Will wearable technology ever take off, or will it remain nothing more than a niche for technophiles? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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