I have a stack, literally, of “wearables” or fitness tracking devices. Some I use on a daily basis, others I wear only sometimes. I often switch out different fitness trackers depending upon mood or fashion. I’m interested in this space because I see fitness tracking as one of the many ways that technology can help us to live better lives. The promise of these category of devices is that they will tell us, in general, how healthy we are being on a day to day basis. From there either applications or our own brains can begin to infer patterns and then we can try to change some of those patterns for our own betterment. I might see that I’m sleeping really badly on Monday nights and note that I often work extra hours that day, which might be causing me stress. Or I notice that I feel happier when my step count is above 15,000 steps. Tracking our fitness in these sorts of ways can help us to move past the vagueness of “eat better, sleep better” and help us to understand WHY we sleep or eat better, which COULD then lead to behavior changes. But there is still a ways to go.
Wearables Till Now
Up until now wearables has really concentrated on fitness types of devices. Things that you wear on your body (usually a non-dominate wrist) that track your movement over the day. Devices have gotten smarter, smaller, and are now tracking heart-rate, perspiration, etc. People have been pretty excited about these types of devices and have bought in at a decent rate. But, like going to the gym, something happens and people stop wearing the devices. One to three months later that $100+ device is sitting in a drawer somewhere struggling to live on it’s drained battery.
So, I think we can say something isn’t working. Is it comfortability? Durability? Fashion? Having to charge the things too much? Or perhaps we are finding that even though we have the data in front of us, and we know that we should do something to change, in the end change is just too damn hard. Like the salad we feel like we should eat while we are munching down on some fries.
In 2012 I gave a talk at the Midwest UX conference about Living with Wearable Tech. In that talk I spoke about some things companies could do to enable better designs for wearable technology. I said things like:
- Make it easy to find, and easy to replace
- Make it stay put
- Be thoughtful about materials used
- Be mindful of fashion and the aversion to looking like a cyborg
- Think about daily and long term use
A lot of these things are still important, and some devices are still missing the mark. But, for the most part companies are starting to get things right. Fitness devices are in general pleasant to wear, durable, and while maybe not always fashion forward, at least not completely ugly. But, something is still missing. People are still putting them down, in drawers, so that they are out of sight and out of mind.
Wearables in 2015
Before we dive into all the problems, let’s look at wearable technology as it is today. Wearable tech is really an exploding market segment. Noted especially on the CES show floor this year (2015). There were a lot of companies promising or showing off some kind of wearable technology, and there were some truly interesting things. But also a lot of the same old stuff. Here are some thoughts about what 2015 will see in wearable technology.
Companies Will Explore
Smart belts are coming to auto-adjust to your waist and tell you more about your waistline. The Ring will allow you to control other devices with small motions of your hand/finger; but looks horribly uncomfortable. There are devices to automatically track what you eat, without intervention from you. Headbands to help you understand your own stress level, and perhaps utilize meditation to become more peaceful. There are smart pacifiers, smart clothes, smart rings, even throw-away wearables. But, the biggest category of all is still smart watches.
Smarter Wrists for Everyone
Smart Watches will be seemingly released (or upgraded) from just about every manufacturer of technology this year. The fight is on to control your wrist. Samsung, Motorola, Garmin, Guess, Lenovo, LG, Montblac, Polar, Sony, and yes even Apple all have or will be soon releasing a smart watch. By the looks of it, everyone in America will have a smarter wrist in 2015, and have more ways than ever to get their notifications from their zillion apps. But I predict that sales numbers will be lower than expected and people will quickly tire of notifications on the wrist. The thought of buying that sexy new watch seems awesome, but I doubt millions of people will plunk down their hard earned cash. Further many of the people who do buy them will forget to charge the things, take the watch off, and then never put it back on.
Fashion Will be Taken More Seriously
Misfit is becoming more fashionable with a partnership with Swarovski. Withthings is getting cheaper and more fashionable while also utilizing a standard watch batter. Fitbit is/has been partnering with fashion brands directly. We will see more and more of this as tech companies struggle to make something people will wear more and not toss in a drawer after two months.
Partnerships Will Create Ecosystems
With all these companies releasing more and more wearable technologies, I believe we will also see more partnerships formed to keep customers engaged with products longer. Jawbone and Misfit are both doing a great job keeping their ecosystem open which enables things like turning on the lights as you are waking up. Other companies will follow suite and try to form partnerships between wearables and smart home products.
Where to Go From Here
The biggest question isn’t really what’s going to happen in 2015 though, it’s really what will happen in the next 3-5 years. Clearly consumers are interested in wearable technology, maybe just as the next fashionable thing to have, but interested enough to pluck down a chunk of change ($100 still seems to be the sweat spot). What companies need to consider is not notifications or even plain step counts, but enabling changes to people’s habits. The technology we use and wear on our bodies everyday should ideally fade into the background, only surfacing when needed or desired as a fashion statement. People want technology to help them change, they just don’t really want to put that much effort (or feel like they putting in effort) into the actual change.
Remember, it’s not about the technology at all. It’s about what the technology can do for us. It’s about humans.