Wearables Rant

Posted by Andrew on April 17, 2014

For a time I un-ironically wore a Casio calculator watch. It was a simpler time filled with naiveté and hope for the future of tiny computers. With this Dick-Tracian future neigh upon us why do I find myself questioning the dreams of my 12 year old self? Why do I have this aching feeling that our current flirtation with wearables is merely that? The number of wearables detractors is growing for various and probable reasons, here are just a few of mine.

Fashion

I have recently begun to embrace my age by tucking my short sleeve button downs into my jeans so take my thoughts with the appropriate salt portion. Wearables as they stand today don't really fit in with the things we choose to put on. Tolerance for uniformity is much higher for devices that we can put in a pocket or purse than for anything we might wear. If you walked down the street right now you would probably see a lot of people wearing similar things but not the same exact thing -- and just changing the color doesn't count. That being said I do see the potential for a secondary case market [1] but just moving the kit around the body doesn't allow for tidy and consistent scenarios. For example if the goal of your wearable is to measure heart rate there are only a few places on your body that are appropriate. If you hope to get a preview of an incoming text message then you would be hard pressed to have the device in the base of your shoe. If people were willing to sacrifice fashion for practicality we would all be wearing fanny packs.

Battery Life

I'll keep this short, pun intended. The tradeoff here is between LiPo batteries which can provide more juice but require frequent charging and Coin Cell batteries which can last for months but provide less power. If your wearable is not a sleep tracker then you might have a shot, otherwise you fall prey to being forgotten on the desk.

Actual Usefulness

Wearables currently fall into a few buckets, Fitness, Sleep, and Notifications. Fitness bands like Fitbits are so-so, Fuel is for Nike people (you know who I'm talking about) and all the others are essentially fancy pedometers. Some of them monitor your sleep, some help your posture while others pretend to wake you up with 2 short vibrations and no real snooze, yes I was very late that day. Then we have the much heralded smart watches like Smart Gear, Pebble, Basis, whatever the next Kicksta-watch is and of course the deceivingly obvious hope of an iWatch. As they stand these watches save you perhaps 10 seconds and don't make you any less socially awkward as you "sneakily" glance at them. Are we really to believe that moving notifications from our thighs to our wrists is a killer feature?

Market Size

There are obviously a lot of people who are currently buying these products and who will continue to do so but are there enough of them? There may be on the lower end but on the high end of the market I'm not so sure. More of a question than a statement of fact.

Google Glass

Google Glass is 10 years too early as a consumer device.

And?

Maybe wearables stick around for a while and possibly they improve but I honestly don't care because it's not big enough. I want a microwave sized change where we didn't know we needed it because we had ovens but now every house has one. The fun part is that we don't yet know what the microwave for the phone is yet.