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11/19/2013
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9 Myths About Wearable Computers

Wearable devices represent a major opportunity for the technology industry, but the makers of these devices still have some work to do.

8 Wearable Tech Devices To Watch
8 Wearable Tech Devices To Watch
(Click the image for a larger view.)

Wearable computing is the future, but we will have to wait a few years before it's meaningful as a market for consumers and technology companies. "We believe this is the next big wave that will come out of the high-tech industry," Thomas Stuermer, a senior executive in Accenture's electronics and high-tech group, told us.

He's not alone in that assessment. Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps wrote in a report last year that sensor-laden devices -- wearable computers and embedded devices -- "will drive the next phase of growth in personal computing and have the potential to transform how we live and work." Before that happens, however, consumer skepticism needs to be overcome, and device makers need to articulate the value proposition of their wearable hardware clearly.

Google Glass, perhaps the highest-profile attempt to launch a mass-market wearable device, may be intriguing, provocative, and promising, but it's not yet necessary, particularly to anyone already in possession of a smartphone. Stuermer argues that consumers and the technology industry need to confront some of the myths that have arisen around wearable devices.

Myth No. 1: Wearable devices are just another form factor for smartphones
Stuermer says the market is much broader than smartphones and watches. It includes eyeglasses, cameras, clothing, healthcare, and activity tracking. And therein lies a problem. It's not one market; it's many markets, not all of which will thrive equally. That said, the smartphone is likely to be the most convenient way to interface with and configure wearable devices over the next few years. It makes very little sense to ask potential consumers to buy and carry wearable devices that contain the same electronics found in their smartphones.

[ Take a visual tour of wearables. See 8 Wearable Tech Devices To Watch. ]

Myth No. 2: Consumers will quickly embrace wearable technology
Technology vendors should temper their expectations. Wearable devices will not experience the kind of rapid growth seen in the smartphone and tablet markets. "Consumers will warm up gradually, and they'll be methodical about it." And it remains to be seen how broadly consumers will accept the technology if it's discretionary. After someone has a device offering mobile communication and web access, what else is necessary?

Myth No. 3: Wearable devices are standalone products
No device is an island. At least, that's Stuermer's thinking for wearable technology. These devices need to be part of larger networks. Manufacturers should focus on building ecosystems and services. Successful business models will allow users to connect their wearable devices to other services and will have some degree of interoperability.

Myth No. 4: The wearable market is new
Wearable devices may now be getting lots of attention, but they're not new. We've had wearable computers of a sort since the first digital watches appeared in the 1970s, and medical devices like pacemakers can be considered wearable. What's new is the ease of networking and modes of interaction that don't ask too much of the user. If you've ever struggled to set a digital watch without knowing the required button combinations, you already understand why touch and voice commands change everything.

Myth No. 5: The wearable market will remain a niche
In fact, it's more likely to be a lot of niches that add up. Stuermer expects the market for wearable devices to grow from about $3 billion to $5 billion this year to $50 billion by 2017. With PC sales stagnant and tablet demand peaking, he expects hardware makers to see wearables as the next frontier.

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Stephanie W
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Stephanie W,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2013 | 10:08:55 AM
Useability and functionality
Great post! And to your point, if the device isn't useable and functional; that is serves a clear, needed purpose, no matter how "cool" or "neat" it is, it won't get off the ground.
Nicole Ferraro
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Nicole Ferraro,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2013 | 10:49:10 AM
Different markets
This was really interesting and useful, thanks. I find myself scratching my head when the subject of wearable tech comes up because it's really not "new" and it's also not nearly specific enough to appeal to average consumers. That latter point is covered in Myth #1, and I do think that piece is a big hurdle here. If wearable technology remains too broadly defined and encompasses a whole range of products and services, how will consumers even know what they want, and what to go shopping for? The industry needs to alter its messaging to appeal to consumers' needs. While I'm not a Google Glass fan, I think that Google has managed to generate buzz around the product by marketing it for what it is, and not throwing it into the "wearable tech" bucket.
philhclark
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philhclark,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2013 | 11:31:07 AM
Re: Different markets
I think the Economist struck a pretty good note on the opportunities Vs the pitfalls of the Google Glass technologies in a piece in last week's print edition. there is clearly the privacy issues but set against that are some exciting possibilities and usages. I think the myth about being first to market is spot on as I think it will take manufacturers some time to get both the form and the function right for consumers.
Alex Kane Rudansky
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Alex Kane Rudansky,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 12:30:10 PM
Design
I think design is a huge factor that will affect wearable tech growth. If a wearable is obtrusive (as some have argued Glass is), it's going to be a harder sell, even if the technology is there. Personally, I think the Jawbone Up has the design but lags in the technology, and Fitbit has the tech but lags in the design, which looks like an over-sized rubber watch. Once the tech and design come together seamlessly, I think we'll see a jump in growth.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 1:05:29 PM
Re: Different markets
The utility of wearable tech will depend a lot on clever software that automates actions based on monitored data. Think Google Now, but better still. We really don't need to be baby-sitting more devices while on the move.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 3:44:57 PM
Re: Design
I agree with Alex. The technology can be cool and the use cases can be practical, but if it looks goofy, no one will buy it. Design is just as important as its applications.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 5:02:27 PM
Re: Useability and functionality
Look fo rearly clues from the military on what's really functional in the way of wearable tech.  One byproduct may be new innovatios in powering all that tech.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
11/19/2013 | 11:49:32 PM
Re: Different markets
Tom, this is really a good point - the wearable device should not only be smart but also be of "plug and forget". We need to fully enjoy its powerful and cutting-edge functionalities/features instead of worrying about its battery life, etc. In other words, we cannot spend more time in baby-sitting those devices from time to time - the working day is already hectic and we cannot afford to have extra complexity.
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