It seems as we get ready for this years Consumer Electronics Show, that we are entering a new phase of technology. The buzz this year seems to be around a new emerging category of technology, namely wearable technology. From the pre-show buzz it sounds like we should hear a lot coming out of CES this year from new Google Glass applications, to smart watches, virtual reality, and maybe even the classic dinner fork. It seems a foregone conclusion that this years event will signal a launch pad for this category to go towards becoming mainstream in the modern world. It is time for a new category as the Smartphone and Tablet are in a mature phase, where it’s no longer just cool to have but expected, meaning they are one step closer to being boring.
It seems all movements forward in technology are driven by limitations in what is currently popular. The move to laptops was driven by the fact that desktops were tied to a power outlet and users had a need to take their productivity with them. Then as laptops got smaller we wanted something even smaller and netbooks evolved to ease our troubles. However all these devices were limited by battery supply and a constant need to find a location with an electrical outlet. We also need somewhere to sit and place our laptop or netbook. Thus the advent of Smartphones and Tablets, and a bonus, no keyboard. We could access information where ever we stood, provided we had connectivity. The limitation now? We still need to hold the device and use our hands.
It was with this backdrop that the first device to get notoriety was Google Glass. They actually looked ok. I was expecting some huge visor of a person’s forehead, but they were actually kind of sleek. I can already see that early on these new devices will create some of the social confusion that mobile phones with ear buds did, the “Are you talking to me?” moment. No, they actually do not even know that you exist (that is kind of rough reality for some people). The concept of Google Glass is interesting, it at times seems like you could be in your own world, kind of like some of the bulkier Virtual Reality devices you see attached to people’s head, however as you walk through town you more or less can interact with what is around you and get more information on things you may see and want to know more about. Some places have already gone as far as banning them. The Five Point in Seattle, WA has done this. It is a dive bar and people go there to get drunk and lose themselves. I can understand not wanting Google Glass to record them, this is a sign of legal battles to come.
The first Smartwatch I saw was over a decade ago when Microsoft Research came up with the Microsoft Spotwatch, it was connected via FM (as in you r radio). It could do stuff like check the weather, but it was big and ugly. In 2013 we started to hear a lot of talk about a new breed of SmartWatches. At the forefront was the Apple iWatch, which was conceptual at the time and despite the rumors still has yet to be released. Samsung has since released its own watch which is available through carrier stores. Having seen them they have some cool features. The gentleman at the AT&T store I was at had one, but was not wearing at the time and discussed some of the features. You can receive your texts via your watch. Check the weather. I can see this is going to happen and it will reinvent the whole idea of what a watch will be. The advantage of having a watch that is connected will be having perfect time. No longer having to reset your watch as it may be running fast or slow, your time is managed by the U>S Naval Observatory in Annapolis, MD. Beyond time we still need a killer purpose for the watch, but then perfect time may be enough.
An area I am rather excited about is fitness technology. Wearable devices that in time will help manage our daily fitness. Tell us when we are doing good and not so good. We could have our bodies monitored throughout the day. You have devices that help you train as well, like FitStar being promoted by former NFL great Tony Gonzalez. A device that helps you workout and stay motivated, not sure about Tony yelling at me but it may work. Going back to our previous theme of watched, Addidas has a Smart Watch that acts as a personal assistant when you are running tracking things like distance, heart rate, time etc..I can foresee a lot of devices and services coming in the near future to aid and assist us in living healthier lifestyles. Accommodating our increasingly mobile lifestyle.
A final area that wearable technology will need to conquer is our vanity. The reality is most people do not want a geeky gadget. In order to feel good we want to look good. In the end we are all slaves to fashion so why should wearable tech be any different. The idea of wearable technology will become mainstream when it is on the cover of GQ Magazine or Heidi Klum starts analyzing and commenting on fashion technology on “Project Runway”. This is wear I think Apple with its dedication to sleek and beautiful design can take a leadership role . Though it is one thing to make a pretty phone another thing to make accessories that you want to wear. Technology is a cross-section and intersection of industry as it impacts every business model it touches. It has influenced design in the back room where ideas are conceptualized, not it will impact us in what we see and wear.
The Consumer Electronics Show this year promises to have a lot of buzz around this new and emerging market segment, which should make for an exciting and entertaining show. CES is not always a success. One year the buzz was 3D television, which struck me as not a winner. Most of the US population had either recently purchased a Plasma or LED television and were not interested in buying a new TV. Let alone having to wear those awful 3D glasses. Wearable technology is just a natural extension of where we have already been, dating back to the mainframe. It will push are lives into new areas we have not explored and hopefully make us better. While at the same time freeing up our lives to do more of the things that we want, to make our lives more fulfilling. Welcome to 2014, it is going to be the year to step out in your digital clothes.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 3, 2014