What do wearables need?

Hey everyone!

I wrote a blog post (which you can find here if you’d like) talking about what wearables really need to be successful, where they’re at, and where I think they could go. I’m curious to hear what you guys think? They get a lot of buzz and they do have some pretty decent sales, but they’re not the runaway success or “next generation of products” that they’re touted as being. What do you think they do wrong, what do you think they do right, and where do you think they could go from here? What do they need to reach that critical mass of adoption?

Well, I think the problem is it’s more of a solution looking for a problem. Right now I’m seeing smartwatches, fitness trackers and things that don’t quite fall in those categories.

For smartwatches, I think the big problem is the marketing and the targeted audience. Right now, they seem to be mainly targeted squarely at nerdy males and make trade-offs like single day battery life for cool tech specs reflect it. Ultimately, it’s very hard to make a useful wrist-top device when you have a phone in your pockets. However, I think the target market should be women. This is possibly a symptom of the lack of women in tech but it just seems so obvious to me. Women typically don’t carry their phone in their pockets and it’s much easier to convince a women to spend a few hundred bucks on jewelry. I see it all the time: women who put their phones on silent because it needs to be very loud if they want to hear it when it’s in their purse. Women who fumble through their bags to answer a call - or just ignore notifications because it’s too much of a hassle to find out it’s spam. And lastly always worrying that they left their phone somewhere. A smartwatch actually seems like something useful in that case. You can get the notification on your wrist and determine if it’s worth searching for your phone or even allow you to pick up a phone call. It can lastly alert you if you’re more than a few meters away from your phone. I think something like https://ringly.com/ is on to something. The ring form factor might be a bit too limiting. Maybe something that’s wrist mounted but has a master device that can fit into several different bracelets.

For fitness trackers, I think the market will change rapidly. Something like the Fitbit doesn’t have much life left. It’ll break up into a 20$ commodity or have the function bundled up in a watch. I think specialized fitness wearables have their place though. Something like Gesturelogic’s Leo which is a thigh band for running and cycling that picks up on muscle activity, lactic acid, cadence, heart-rate etc. and can give you actual useful training information on top of replacing current cycling meter. I can also see the helmet/mouthguard concussion trackers pick up pace as well. I think we’ll see a trend going towards specialized devices if they can to be useful.

Lastly the devices that don’t fall into the other categories, to me are the most interesting. To winners like JUNE the simple sun exposure tracker to clunkers like Google Glass remind us that it’s a new market opportunity and we don’t know yet what will stick.

My take away is that a simple devices with obvious and useful functions and are closer to jewelry than tech products will get traction.

Have you seen this list? It basically nails everything you talk about; specialized, jewelry-esque devices that are targeted at women;


No I hadn’t seen that list or heard about most of those products - I had that thought when the Apple Watch was unveiled and I was really surprised that they were marketing it in similar way to a phone or computer - tech specs and technobabble rather than reasons why you’d want to wear it. Of course the initial unveiling aimed at technophiles more than average customers, I’m curious to see how they’ll market it once it becomes available.

I think the startups in that link get it and I give them credit for making useful pieces of technology rather than shrinking a smartphone enough for it to fit on your wrist.

I think they’re at caveman level right now - what they require is a GUI that utilizes virtual real estate around the user/wearer - we need to be able to interact with the GUI in ways that don’t require us to remain within the physical real estate of a screen. Samsung, LG and others are working on it and the bits we’ve seen leaked are pretty cool. Google Glass seemed to be a huge step forward but might still be just a little too early for its own time.

Wearables need a clear objective.

I don’t think a generalized “computer” is a clear objective. Again, this might be the old man in me, but being connected 24/7 has no appeal.

I do think fitness and health tracking has consumer appeal. There are plenty of weekend warriors to sustain that market. Then there is diagnostics and treatments at a medical device level that have a necessity even if the consumer doesn’t “want” to wear it.

I do struggle to think of other categories where that constant stream of data is desirable.

here’s what Syd Mead has to say about wearables…

I agree with the fashion points above “start with the why”. I think there are other specialty markets that could be tapped. Im thinking of safety primarily in the heavy equipment, animal owner, and children areas. A ring or wrist band that turns the machine off if your hand gets too close to the blade, a dog collar that monitors location or health stats, a child seat that wont let your car start unless the kid is properly strapped in. I would of course prefer practical applications to re-enforce peoples common sense and not a replacement for paying attention.

Im thinking of safety primarily in the heavy equipment, animal owner, and children areas.

My “design” career has been, shall we say, diverse, and I have had some experience operating heavy equipment; eleven years to date. Six years ago I was on a job site when a man was crushed to death by a CAT scraper, thank God I didn’t actually see it happen. These machines are seldom backed unless absolutely necessary and whenever possible a “walker” is enlisted to guide the operator, but in this case a person to walk the machine was not available. All equipment is fitted back-up alarms, but construction sites are always noisy, and studies have been conducted that show that workers become inured to background noises. Add to that, all back up alarms sound pretty much the same and it’s a formula for disaster.

I can see where a transponder (worn by every work on a site) that would either alert an operator, shut down, or lock-up a machine whenever someone strays into a equipment work zone might save lives. Outfitting all of that technology to existing machines would be an almost impossible task I think; these machines tend to have long lives and get sold many times.

I would of course prefer practical applications to re-enforce peoples common sense and not a replacement for paying attention.

It is often the case that equipment operators need to work closely with workers on the ground. At some point the operator might become afraid that a worker is too close and simply not move. Not very productive. More likely, s/he would ignore the alarm (there’s that “inured” situation again). Safety training is ongoing but heat and fatigue breeds inattention, both in the cab, and on the ground. The deceased was a twenty-year veteran of the construction industry. The operating engineer was in his late forties and “retired” after the incident. I think I would have too.

Wow Lmo, that’s brutal. I really like the idea of work-safety wearables though; tags that let machines know where the people are around them.

I think what we’re trending towards is a sort of “brain box” that people can carry around that might have a basic OS, some conversational ability, a locator beacon, and a standard wireless and plug-based interface. It’s basically your phone except maybe without a screen and with less functionality and more individuality.

Maybe something that stores your user preferences and lets you interface with any computer? What about wearables that integrate a mouse, keyboard, and screen? Useful or too over the top?

Check this out;