Wearable technology certainly isn’t new. In 1976, Hamilton Pulsar introduced the calculator watch, complete with a stylus for pressing those incredibly tiny buttons. HP and Texas Instruments were fast to follow, with a host of gaming watches rolling out soon after—who didn’t want to play Super Mario Bros. and Space Invaders on the go?
Although wearable tech has been around in some form or another for the last three-plus decades, its predecessors were much more “geek” than “chic” and existed solely for the ease, convenience, and entertainment of the wearer. But with Google Glass’s high-profile entrance into the market this past year, a newer, brighter light was seemingly shone onto the wearable tech landscape as a whole.
We’re just days into 2014, and many experts are already touting it as the year of wearable technology, citing the proliferation of in-market and soon-to-be available devices dominating the digital chatter. Regardless of the expectation, the numbers can’t be denied. What’s before us is a booming industry, expected to reach nearly half a billion annual shipments in the next four years, according to ABI Research. This year alone, the global wearable tech market could top $4.5 billion.
Right now the clear winner—potentially the only clear winner at this point—is the host of sport and activity trackers. The almost-ubiquitous training and personal wellness tool made up more than three-fifths of the wearable tech market in 2013. From Fitbit to Jawbone and Nike’s popular FuelBand, everyone, it seemed, was leveraging these convenient wristbands to optimize weight loss and wellness. And with average prices ranging from $50 to $100, the wristband was hands down the most consumer accessible tool on the market in the last 12 months.
Pushing the envelope in this bucket is fit-tech leader Basis, who showed off a sleek sleep tracker that will offer wearers a detailed breakdown of their ZZZs, from tossing and turning counts to nightly interruptions, heart rate, skin temperature, and restorative REM time. All, of course, sync with a now-updated mobile app for iOS and Android and will be available starting January 21. It got a cool facelift, too, with a stainless steel band that gives it a visual leg up on its plastic-banded predecessor.
The company already offers some of the most sophisticated tools out there, with bands that gauge 24/7 heart rate, body movements, workout intensity, sweat levels, exertion level, and sleep quality, syncing data to your smartphone. Also interesting is that Basis devices, unlike the name brand products on the market, are predominantly geared toward the health conscious and not the wannabe fitness freak. The company’s site touts making small changes and leveraging the knowledge coming out of your Basis tracker to maximize personal potential and create positive habits. Not a bad niche in an industry likely to make major strides in 2014.
Besides activity trackers, what else is looking good this year? Smart watches, for sure. With their ever-expanding app support and sub-$300 price point, more users will be jumping on this trend in the coming months. The first true smart watch came in Q4 of 2013, with Samsung’s release of Galaxy Gear in the preholiday weeks. Heralding it as “the next big thing,” Samsung positioned Galaxy Gear among legends, from Dick Tracy’s two-way radio watch to Knight Rider’s wrist communicator and even Inspector Gadget’s go, go, gadget watch from the 1980s. Lofty ambitions, perhaps.
However, despite selling around 800,000 pieces in its first two months, the reviews remain less than enthusiastic. That said, with Apple teasing a 2014 release of its buzzed-about iWatch—and CEO Tim Cook indicating that the device will have more consumer appeal than Google Glass—smart watches as a whole are expected to dominate the market in the next 12 to 24 months.
What else will make a splash? Following on the successful heels of the activity tracker boom, personal health and wellness software and services will make steady increases in the year ahead. The Consumer Electronics Association expects these advances to increase 142 percent over the next five years thanks in large part to a boom in the wearable tech market. Think bio sensor shirts, like those coming out of Canadian company OMSignal, which will likely hit the market in a big way this year and next. These stylish compression garments activate circulation, aid performance, and are even purported to drive faster, more efficient muscle recovery, while their embedded sensors monitor heart rate, activity, breathing, and a host of other functions. All of this valuable bio-data syncs with your mobile phone instantly, helping you track progress and chart successes. Happy with your old workout tee? Try a sensor-enhanced bra or socks—both can track food consumption and help stave off overeating. They aren’t far behind.
And the implications go far beyond the gym. Think shirt-embedded sensors that track overnight patterns for sleep apnea sufferers, or even triggers for those with chronic physical and emotional conditions, from asthma to panic attacks. In the future, this information could sync not only with patients’ smartphones but with their doctors’, enabling them to make recommendations and, essentially, track patients in their day-to-day environment to make more efficient, effective diagnoses and treatment plans, and track their success in real time.
Google Glass isn’t the only thing that’s high tech and will travel. Your clothes, your watch, and even your underwear and your eyelashes are ready to help you enhance your well-being and increase your day-to-day efficiency. Now the big question: what’s the implication for marketers? These devices and their related apps will know everything and anything about anyone and everyone, from medical conditions and wellness goals to activity levels and preferences, temporal patterns, geotargeting information, and much, much more. Will phase two be targeting users with relevant offers, content, and information? Is there an ethical hiccup that will keep brands from tapping into this seemingly proprietary data for fiscal gain? Or could these alignments actually enhance the consumer experience?
It’s a big topic and one likely to be explored in more detail at the Consumer Electronics Show. I’ll review what I’m seeing coming back from the conference and, next week, tackle some of the marketing and optimization questions tied to wearable tech.