Mobility

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.

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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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About

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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