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What’s the future for wearable tech?

Last week, I went along to the Wearable Technology Show at ExCeL to hear about the latest thinking on the future of the wearables market.

It’s clearly still a sector that some big players see a big future in, with no less than Google opening the show and talking about their vision for Android Wear 2.0 and Google Fit.   Google sees smart watches becoming a seriously big deal, with three primary functions of authentication, knowledge and control of your environment. 

A key aspect of the knowledge element of that is going to be fitness and health.  Google and many others at the show see health tracking as a critical part of the functionality of wearable tech in the future. However, it was pretty clear that there is a need for these products to move beyond simple activity tracking and towards a more holistic (and useful) health & fitness proposition.

Activity trackers have been massively popular in the last few years, but the abandonment rates of the products are really high, and that’s not a sustainable business model.  There was a consensus at the show that the next generation of wearables needs to offer a lot more than just counting steps, or “incidental activity” as Dave Wright from MYZONE puts it.  People will demand products that accurately track their physical activity, but also measure things like nutrition, heart rate, blood pressure and a raft of other health metrics.  Some existing products do some of these things already, but it’ll be fascinating to see if the tech develops to a point where all of this can be done with a single device, with the data sent seamlessly to your doctor (or insurance provider).   By the way, there was a real consensus that a huge amount of data is already being collected by these products, but very little is being done with it.  The next generation of wearables needs to solve that.

There were two distinct schools of thought at the show about the future design of wearables: one view was that, to hit the mainstream, wearable products need to become much more aesthetically pleasing.  Most consumers don’t want to be seen wearing something that looks like a piece of plastic technology around their wrist. They want that functionality to be hidden inside a piece of beautifully designed jewellery, embedded in their clothing or even implanted in their bodies to make the product entirely invisible.  There are big opportunities here for more collaboration between tech and fashion brands.

The other view was that people actually want to wear visible products as a symbol of status, wealth or belonging to a tribe, as humans have done for thousands of years.  I suspect this will be the case with early adopters, but the mainstream consumer will prefer something discreet that looks good first and foremost, but still provides genuinely useful functionality.   We shall see, but there’s no doubt that wearables are here to stay and it’s going to be fascinating to see how the sector develops in the next few years.

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