Wearable computing: 10 things you should know

Wearable computing may have seemed impractical and excessive in the past, but with the new year comes a new trend: functionality.
Google Glass Rachel King
 Image: James Martin/CNET

Without a doubt, wearable technology is the most prevailing topic in early 2014. Call it out on its hype, but it stands to reason this trend will not only stay with us, but become integrated into society and useful in everyday life. Here are 10 things we think you should know about wearables and the many directions they’re headed:

1. Health and fitness wearables will continue to reign in popularity

Activity monitors, heart-rate monitors, and pedometers are among the most common devices, taking shape in wristbands, watches, clothing, and accessories. Fitness enthusiasts love to track movement, vitals, body temperature, sleeping patterns, and speed. According to Gartner, apps and services for personal health and fitness may generate up to $5 billion by 2016. These devices won’t just be for consumers, but also healthcare systems and businesses that want to monitor activity and provide incentives for employees’ healthful living, according to a recent Forrester study called “The Enterprise Wearables Journey.”

2. Wearables are moving away from the face and wrists

Glasses and wristbands probably come to mind first when you hear wearable computing. But in order to appeal to the general public in the future, companies must combine technology with everyday items. Sensors and wires embedded in clothing, jewelry, headphones, and shoes will gain traction. A study by Forrester showed that 29 percent of respondents are willing to wear devices clipped on clothing and 15 percent would prefer it embedded. Still, wristbands are the most accepted and demanded wearable, which leaves us anxiously awaiting devices like Apple’s iWatch.

SEE: Wearable Computing Policy template from Tech Pro Research

3. Look out for brave attempts at fashionable bluetooth jewelry and clothing

In order to appeal to more women, developers such as CSR have released necklaces and other pieces that flash or sound, alerting the wearer of incoming messages. Beware: they’re extremely gaudy right now. But that may soon change, said Angela McIntyre, research director for Gartner, Inc. She’s seen models of wired evening gowns and leather bracelets that communicate via vibration, light, and sound. “It gives the effect of having diamonds or some kind of sparkle on you, so it doesn’t scream that it is a light flashing.”

4. To better appeal to the mass market, companies will focus on design

It’s a subtle but especially relevant point of growth for developers to make sure wearables can reflect individual styles and personalities. As the technology becomes more widespread and affordable, people who scoffed at Google Glass will soften to the idea of staying connected via these devices. That is, as long as they’re unobtrusive and somewhat fashionable, McIntyre said. This is the next step in removing the social stigma.  

5. Kickstarter fueled the wearable revolution, and it’s still rapidly growing

Just 18 months ago, Pebble broke records on Kickstarter and put smart watches on the map. Founder Eric Migicovsky planned to raise just $100,000, but hit $10 million with more than 85,000 backers. It proved that people will pay for practical (or, perhaps even impractical) wearable devices. That knowledge has led to hundreds of novel ideas on crowdfunding sites that have reached their goals, such as meMINI, a camera that captures moments after they occur, and FitBark, a fitness wearable for your dog.

6. Wearables will propel the Internet of Things

You’ve heard the phrase floating around, and wearable computing is positioned to be a gateway technology for this phenomenon. It will empower both physical and virtual scenarios. Health and environmental contexts are sensed and monitored, the data is recorded (whether that’s video, voice, photos, or location), and users and systems can do interesting things with the information. According to Forrester research, 2014 to 2016 will see early adoption before wearables move into mainstream society. By 2020, wearables will be central to business, healthcare, and personal systems.

2Pebble Steel-Hands-620px.jpg
 Image: Pebble

7. Wearables will integrate more seamlessly into daily life

We’re all guilty of it: checking out of a face-to-face conversation while you peek at your messages; looking down at your lap to make sure you didn’t miss a call; obviously tuning out of conversations due to “FOMO” (fear of missing out). According to Kleiner, Perkins Caufield & Byers’ Internet Trends study, the average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day. With the device on your wrist, shirt, or head, staying updated won’t seem as rude.

8. Prepare for a shift to contextual computing

Soon, wearable technology will be about more than simply tracking basic data. It will use combinations of hardware, software, and networking to find precise information that we can utilize and analyze. This goes hand-in-hand with integrating wearables into our everyday lives. The best example is Google Now, which gathers excessive amounts of information about you so that it can anticipate your needs and better present data to you in the future.

9. Adding more sensors will consolidate devices and broaden market appeal

The more data a smartwatch or other wearable can track, the more practicality. Think about a smartwatch. It was primarily designed as a secondary screen to the smartphone. But with added sensors, we could get alerts, track data, and monitor vitals and activity. Soon enough, it becomes a wellness device with generalized features that a non-athlete or fitness enthusiast can enjoy and wear often.

10. In addition to more generalized devices, we will see wearables for immediate, contextual usage

On the opposite hand, a new trend is targeting particular consumers or markets. As these devices become more integrated into our lives, we will see more opportunities for occupation-specific uses as an extension of mobility. “They need to do one or two things really well, and target a particular type of user,” McIntyre said. According to Forrester, 46 percent of business leaders view mobile strategy as a high priority, and wearables represent the next phase. Google Glass, Lumus Personal Display, Epson Moverio, and other smart glasses will increasingly fill niches as developers create them for contextual usage. Think law enforcement, engineering, construction work--the opportunities are endless.

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Lyndsey Gilpin is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She writes about the people behind some of tech's most creative innovations and in-depth features on innovation and sustainability.


Strange how people just don't see the most common wearable.

By far the most actively used wearable smart device is the smartphone in your pocket.

Monitoring your activity through the day.  Keeping you in contact.  Reminding you of appointments.

None of the more hyped wearable classes yet come close in terms of actual impact.


With the low cost and very low battery need of Bluetooth SMART (aka Bluetooth Low Energy), these new product ideas are transforming into real jobs and new start ups. Gaudy is no longer necessary, but functionality is. Just imagine what can be done by wearing something ultrathin and just being in close proximity to another portable electronic device or everyday appliance.


"Sensors and wires embedded in clothing, jewelry, headphones, and shoes will gain traction." Ha Ha...I see what you did there :)


And as people asked about iBeacon...

So who cares the NSA is appropriating phone call numbers (or more) when users of these devices are giving away their information?

It makes me feel that recent Dr. Who (internet with smart bullets) and Almost Human episodes where the bad buys are tracking you by your use of your laptop and smartphone, and security and cell phone cameras is getting more realistic. Didn't they employ video face recognition to help capture the Boston bombers?


"... With the device on your wrist, shirt, or head, staying updated won’t seem as rude. ..." Diverting one's attention from a face-to-face conversation to check the status of any device (even a simple watch), no matter how discretely, is still just as rude as it ever was. Wearable technologies certainly offer new convenience and accessibility, but are more likely to worsen rather than lessen socially inconsiderate behavior.


It looks like the ultimate end of privacy: We will become real time fully traceable, predictable and identifiable, no more than another Internet thing categorized as type "Consumer" in a list between Car and Cow. Health issues are still debatable but privacy issues are not, we lost this battle already.


I see a distinct lack of concerns with the unveiling of new wearable technology regarding the dangers of close contact with low power radiation over long periods of time.

Even low power radio emission is known to disrupt or "cook" living tissue, and we're just starting to see health reports of long term use with respect to cancer. Incidentally, when the IEEE met back in 1999 with wireless industry representatives, they unanimously decided to raise the radiation exposure limit. Despite the fact that radiation from cellular devices was demonstrated to be dangerous, better service (and revenue) had priority over the potential dangers to their customers. But that was related to broadcast energy. Low power use around the home or office remains an issue.

So no problem, strap 'em on.


I would like to see the development of one very powerful compute engine, everything else would be I/O devices talking to the compute engine. A male could have the compute engine attached to his belt, a female could keep it in her purse. The I/O devices could be wearable, phones, tablets, laptops etc. The I/O devices would have the minimal electronics to perform its I/O functions and communicate to the compute engine. The Compute Engine would talk to all the I/O devices and to the internet, cell networks, GPS and various clouds and servers.   


I agree with @pivert on the health issues to the user.  I, for one, considering Google's latest development of a contact lens that monitors eye fluids for glucose levels, would be quite concerned of how and where that data would be transmitted.  I wonder if Google is getting into these things with less than adequate medical research and supervision from a safety standpoint.  I would hate to think that Marketing is the one in control.

Also, where is all this information going?  Who is developing the apps to track your every breath and heartbeat?  Where is the security to keep your data from being sold to the highest bidder (employer, insurance companies) and isn't a lot of this information privileged - between you and your doctor, not a developer?  Isn't this a violation of HIPPA?

So, by the numbers:

#1 - "healthcare systems and businesses that want to monitor activity and provide incentives for employees’ healthful living."  What incentives?  Money?  If you don't follow along, can you be fired?  Does my employer have the right to know my heart rate and other intensely personal information?  No, they don't .. and without the full medical history of the person, 'recommendations' may be hazardous to that person's health.

#7 - "checking out of a face-to-face conversation while you peek at your messages; looking down at your lap to make sure you didn’t miss a call; obviously tuning out of conversations due to “FOMO” (fear of missing out)"

First of all, no, not ALL of us do that.  And that 'fear,' a logical outcome of social media, is a psychological problem - an addiction - and the idea that "With the device on your wrist, shirt, or head, staying updated won’t seem as rude" is absurd and equally rude.  If I'm talking to somebody and their eyes suddenly glaze over while they're listening to their shirt telling them that some remote 'friend' on Facebook just ate a tuna sandwich .. I'll simply walk away from them.

#8 - "Google Now, which gathers excessive amounts of information about you so that it can anticipate your needs and better present data to you in the future."  Who has told Google that they can, or have the right to, anticipate *anything* about me?  And then determine what data to present to me?  At a minimum, it's a grand way to narrow a person's thoughts and concepts.  If you're 'fed' information on only one possibility or action or book to read, show to watch, political thought - you are destroying a person's ability to think for themselves.  You see it already with apps and devices that base 'recommendations' on your previous choices.

For clothing, will you be able to buy a non-bugged version?  Or will there be instructions on how to turn off your socks?  But then, if you turn them off, can they be turned back on - remotely - without your knowledge and/or consent?

I can't wait, re: the Internet of Things, until they're hacked and there is a breach of refrigerator data.  It's critical, you know, to be fully aware of how many people are low on milk or have leftovers that have turned into science experiments.  Or the washing machine starts sending out spam!!


Wearable computing may have seemed impractical and excessive in the past, but with the new year comes a new trend: trackability.


And all that wireless radiation all over your body isn't a health issue of course. Lead paint, smoking, asbestos: all very safe they said. And tracking you where ever you go? Nsa will contact the medics in case of an emergency I guess? And sell your info to insurance and employers. I'll support an info-blocker on kickstarter any time!



iBeacon is totally opt IN.  Unlike Google and the the NSA it only takes information that you have actively authorised it to take.

I guess that isn't on Samsung's briefing notes for Trolls.


@jenkinsa What the public needs to understand is that Bluetooth Low Energy radios are a very minute fraction of the radiation the human body absorbs every day, even if that person does not own a cell phone. Its true, I have seen hundreds of measurements.


This was one of my primary concerns.  At the latest 'geek' show, they demonstrated a onesie for babies that has sensors in it.  It's contained in a strip of fabric that stretches from one shoulder to the opposite hip and transmits everything related to the child:  vitals, sleep or awake, position, crying or not, and the parent (too busy on Facebook to either have the baby with them or walk into the child's room) receicves all the data on their smartphone.

So .. let's start 'cooking' our children right from the outset.  They'll be part of the 'grand experiment' I guess. 

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