Industry leaders say standardization needed for wearable tech

The wearable tech market would benefit from standardization in hardware and software, according to industry leaders at the Wearable Tech Expo

Standardization of wearables was one of the topics covered at the Wearable Tech Expo in New York City.

Standardization would help solve some of the biggest challenges facing the wearables industry, according to Myriam Joire, chief product evangelist for Pebble, who delivered a keynote address today at the Wearable Tech Expo.

"I think that we're small enough of an industry that we can't really afford to not work together to some extent. I think there's enough room for us to all work together and still compete," Joire said in an interview after her keynote address. Standardization would give a better user experience, with consistency in both hardware and software, from power cord chargers and battery life to operating systems, she said.

Both software and hardware definitely needs standardizations to strengthen the wearables industry, said Joe Fitzgerald, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting.

"Eventually we'll have to get to a point where there is more standardization between hardware and software platforms," Fitzgerald said in an interview after his keynote address at the July 23-24 expo at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Fitzgerald said he feels software is where the greatest need is for standardization. "There's so much fragmentation in that market and a lot of solutions for the same space," he said.

Ed English, vice president of APX Labs, who participated in a forum at the expo, said in a separate interview that standardization is a natural part of the maturity of wearables.

"In the last couple of years you've seen fragmentation as things evolved from the primordial ooze. And in the last couple of years you've seen some standardization as people started to put it into practice. The things that are good start to align. And beyond that, people will take steps to say 'here are the big building blocks.' There will be less random chaos to the mature systems that we see today," English said.

Where standardization would help

Battery life is one of the areas that Joire most feels standardization would help. The original Pebble and the newer Pebble Steel only have a 130mAh battery. "That's nothing," Joire said during her keynote address. "You could suck that battery dry with a light bulb in a half hour at most. It's the number one challenge in wearables today. Battery life is a huge deal. The challenge with battery life is connectors and how do you charge a device. Right now for us, the solution is creating a magnetic connector that doesn't take up any real estate inside the watch and is waterproof."

"What we're trying to do now at Pebble is to rally a whole bunch of the other manufacturers and get them to standardize," Joire said. Pebble is actively seeking partners to work with them to develop such products. Standardized features would include a low profile for the USB port and waterproofing, as well as a longer battery life.

Some products, such as the LG G watch, with a 400mAh battery, are bigger, but the color display and phone processor that it uses quickly drain the battery. In comparison, the Pebble Steel features an E-paper monochrome screen that uses less power than a color display.

Future smartwatch options

One of the technologies that Pebble is working on is a flexible battery that could possibly be used as the wristband or within the wristband of the smartwatch, Joire said.

Flexible batteries were a concept mentioned during the Wearable Tech Expo.

Also helpful would be wireless charging as a standard. "A few years from now it will be pretty normal for you to throw your watch or phone on a pad and have wireless charging," she said. If the industry sticks with one method, then it will help grow the wearables business as a whole, she said.

There are also challenges with smartwatch displays. "On one hand you have Pebble. On the other side you have awesome looking high-resolution color displays that are completely not readable in daylight and that use more power. This is your choice today. There is no magic pill. You have to pick one. For the next two years, wearables will suffer from this problem," Joire said.

Joire said Pebble chose a monochrome E-paper screen so that it would be visible in daylight and preserve battery life. "Most of the time for a smartwatch at least, you're not using it when you're indoors because you have your phone. You generally use it when you're walking somewhere outdoors. So we picked that side of the fence. But nothing stops us from making two watches," Joire said.

Giving smartwatches longer battery life, making more with flexible screens and creating completely waterproof devices, will all go a long way toward making smartwatches more mainstream. The Pebble is waterproof, but many smartwatches are made with IP67 technology that's "barely water resistant" according to Joire.

"If you want to go beyond us, the early adopters, the tech savvy users, you have to solve usability challenges. The people who buy a smartwatch at Target don't want to do anything complicated. They want it to add value to their lives. Notifications alone have value right now. A busy mom carrying groceries who gets a notification that she has a text message and doesn't have to pull her phone out, that's gold," Joire said.

"Building ecosystems is a challenge. It's by being open and working together. Building an ecosystem where other partners work together with you rather than try to compete with everything is the way to go," Joire said.

By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a former Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic's news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena's lifelong journalism career has included wri...