Feeding Into the Wearables Bandwagon – Where is it Headed Though?

Clearly, the buzz around wearable technology has to do with the hands-free user design – these smart peripherals allow for a better experience for certain functions. While consumers are not going to do away with their iPhones, tablets and computers anytime soon, wearables make sense as these small, cheap devices pack enough computing punch within that frees the user of both hands. So essentially, for products like GoogleGlass or GalaxyGear, the selling point is just this: you can make voice calls, read messages, and take pictures without getting your phone out of your pocket.

The intention that revolves around a wearable device, with its limited input options, is NOT interaction unlike a smartphone. The limitations surrounding user-device interaction aren’t directly related to the wearable device which is what differentiates a wearable device from other computing devices.

Considering the avalanche of fitness trackers, augmented reality headsets, smart watches in the market, 2013 turned out to be the year of the wearables. Albeit not to the scale that would drive people out to the stores and stock up on glasses, smart wrist bands and buttons, the year definitely put wearables as a fledgling technology on the map.

Crowdfunding – A Shot in the Arm for Hardware Businesses

Valley venture capitalists have been busy betting their money on wearables of all kinds, right from health/fitness tracking body monitors and gesture-controlled armbands to brain sensing headbands. Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers lined up with Google Ventures to fund third-party developers building applications around Google Glass through the Glass Collective. According to CB Insight, venture capitalists have pumped $458 million into wearable technology last year alone.

This is but one side of the story. Apart from the confluence of mobile broadband technologies, commoditized sensors, third-party app ecosystems and UX design, crowdfunding has helped chaperon wearable technology to the mainstream.

One company that literally set Kickstarter on fire was Pebble, an E-paper smart watcher maker for Android and iOS. Initially unsuccessful at raising capital, the company’s founders turned the crowdfunding way and raised a whopping $10 million after which Charles River Ventures bestowed $15 million in a venture round. Pebble’s unique success is evidence that crowdfunding and VC money can work in tandem to nudge a prototype into reality. In the face of Google’s Glass venture in bringing Android Wear mainstream, and Apple’s purported “iWatch” launch, paltry Pebble’s lead is a powerful punch.

Investment through Kickstarter or Indiegogo means an early community is willing to adopt a product. From the developer’s side, it is a platform to test an idea, or a product before flushing all their savings into the project. The crowdfunding model also levels the field with investors and places power of decision in the hands of consumers.

Other giants such as Intel and even Disney are not keeping quiet – Intel acquired Basis Science for $100 million recently and is an active investor in Thalmic Labs and Recon Instruments; Disney for its part has invested $1 billion to develop Magic+, a smart band intended to track its guests inside its resorts. Even non-tech giants such as Nike (no longer just a shoe brand, with its Nike+ initiatives fueling its tech ambitions), Under Armor and Adidas are leaping on the bandwagon convinced of the potential and future profits.

When Technology is Still Searching for its Purpose

Regardless of the excitement and the money flowing into wearable technologies, there are fundamental issues surrounding these concepts. A watch that you can talk to and glasses that will overlay virtual information over what you see require tremendous shift in consumer behaviors and how they relate to technology. Secondly, one can only imagine the level of security and privacy issues that abound with this kind of ubiquitous and pervasive computing technology that will track, monitor, and constantly connect everyone. The onus is now to start looking beyond the hardware and its smart features and create an application idea that makes these trackers and watches indispensable rather than cool gadgets that no one will need.

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