TechWeekEurope heads to the Wearable Technology Show to find out
Wearable technology has exploded over the past few years, as more and more of us look for addition smart devices to help us stay connected.
Nowhere is this growth seen more so than at the Wearable Technology Show, held at London’s ExCel centre this week. Now in its second year, the show attracts many large technology companies, alongside innovative start-ups looking for their opportunity to get noticed. But what are the industry’s big players saying about the future of wearable technology? TechWeekEurope went along to find out.
Although they have enjoyed huge growth in recent times, wearables do remain a very niche product, at this point in time mainly only worn by early adopters.
The problem appears to be three-fold, according to many of the keynote speakers at the show – with the major hurdles being style, functionality and price. We’ve all accepted that wearables are here to stay, but just how do companies make them go mainstream?
As odd as it may sound, style is one of the most significant factors in helping encourage wearable use – even away from smartwatches and fitness trackers. Patients are less likely to adopt health monitoring devices if they are chunky or cumbersome, much like technology fans seek for slimness and smooth builds, making a challenge for both designers and manufacturers.
Samsung has long been at the forefront of designing beautiful mobile devices, and recognises the challenges involved in making a new field of products appealing to consumers. This desirability can only be facilitated by the technology inside though, Ashish Sethi, from the company’s wearables business said, as the technology itself needs to be ‘invisible’.
Wearables have also helped spark the growing trend for flexible devices, leading to a need for curved or bendable displays to create aesthetically-pleasing designs too, which will become increasingly common over the next few years.
One of the show’s other keynote speakers, Intel’s Marco Della Torre, called on technology companies to work together with fashion companies to enable products to collaborate and ultimately become more useful for customers.
“We need to get products to talk together more effectively, so they achieve more than the sum of their parts,” he said. “The worlds of fashion design and technology are now collaborating. This is a new collaboration of industries that have never worked this closely together before.”
Della Torre noted that the consumer desires are increasingly influencing the design of future devices, necessitating the need to deliver immediate data to help people lead their lives and keep a constant record of their activity.
“Wearable technology is most exciting when doing something your smartphone can’t do – like taking your heart rate – that highlights the value of wearable technology, it provides data you can’t get anywhere else.”
Safe and sound?
However, with all these new devices flooding on to the market, and their need to constantly transmit data, issues were also raised about the security of wearables.
Also on the main stage, Steve Wainwright, vice president and general manager for sales and marketing at sensor designer Freescale, highlighted that ensuring security is the “real challenge” for the wearable technology industry today.
“There’s the potential for 50 billion devices, that’s a huge amount of connected stuff. If you don’t get security element in place we can kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said.
“The biggest issue is security – it’s absolutely mandatory. Innovation is at the fore but security isn’t what people tend to want to focus on. They are collecting masses of data but someone somewhere will want to do something nasty with that data, so we really have to find a way to close that gap.”
Ironically, it could also be the wearable sector’s appeal to start-ups that could put it at risk from security vulnerabilities, Wainwright said. Highlighting a recent Gartner study which found that such companies will produce around half of all ne wearable technology by 2017, he warned how these organisations are often primarily interested in racing a product to market and making sure they stand out over ensuring the security of their goods.
What to do…
Functionality was also a key area of interest when discussing wearable devices, as they become able to carry out a wider and more diverse collection of tasks.
LG, which announced its latest flagship wearable, the G Watch Urbane (pictured left), a few weeks ago, was also represented at the show, with the company’s Justin Jungsup Lee, emphasising how such devices are creating a ‘revolution in wearables’.
The company chooses to look at smartwatches as fashion items first, gadgets second, Lee said, as desirability is often the first hurdle to overcome in helping a device go mass market.
Watches have been around for hundreds of years, and they’re a very personal style statement, Lee said, highlighting that 1.2 billion were sold last year – far more than smartphones. Now the challenge comes in overcoming scepticism, and convincing consumers that they need to upgrade to the next generation – with Nest’s digital thermostat and Big Ass Fans’ ceiling fans proving that such a change can be done.
How smartwatch manufacturers can “cross the chasm” from appealing to early adopters to winning over the mass market will play a crucial role in their success, Lee said.
“Not that many wearable devices have been sold. 20 million devices – that’s just 0.04 percent penetration, and just 1 percent of the innovator segment. Crossing the chasm is the next step.”
Making devices attractive but also functional is the key to this, Lee says, as LG looks to understand customer behaviour first, and develop products based on that. Creating an eco-system for products to move into can prove invaluable, especially for a growing product area, as wearable devices can suddenly look to solve problems or issues people may not have even considered before.
This view was echoed by Gary Atkinson, director of emerging technologies at British chipmaker ARM, who took to the stage to show off examples of how wearables truly can make a difference.
Highlighting how the company’s technology is helping drive innovation across the wearable market thanks to its incredibly slim yet powerful processors, smaller and more connected devices are solving issues across the world, he noted.
This includes helping the world deal with an increasingly ageing society, as wearable devices can take workload off doctor, nurses and other medical staff by providing a constant stream of medical data; improving health and safety in outdoor industries such as construction via ensuring proper protocols and procedures are in place when entering a site; and using improved tagging and health and disease monitoring to better manage livestock.
“We are solving significant global challenges,” Atkinson said.
So the overall forecast for wearables is strong, however it may still be a short while before such devices become universally accepted. Apple blew the lid of the market with the full-scale reveal of its Watch (pictured right) earlier this week, showing off the wide array of tasks that can be completed using the device, but raised eyebrows regarding price and battery life.
In the end, it may not be fashionable watches that make wearables into the next phenomenon, but their incorporation into our everyday lives, and by extension, the Internet of Things. As the wodl becomes more connected, we as consumer will need to do the same, and wearables can help accelerate this. From medical data to entertainment to just tracking the temperature, technology can play a significant role in helping all of us improve and move forward, and all it needs is a few extra devices.
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