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Wearable technology is starting to wear thin

Wearable technology’s time is coming, honestly, say the manufacturers. Only, the smart watch is taking its time to make a significant market impact. The reasons for the apparent market decline are many but New Statesman Tech identifies two main factors. The first may be intractable and the second will take some work and repositioning to ovdercome.

Market says “no” to wearables

A few years ago, your editor was involved with the British Film Institute and also a national newspaper, writing articles and presenting events on 3D TV technology. There was nothing wrong with the technology. On testing it, it worked and the pictures were fine. Cinemas were showing 3D movies and they still are.

And the market took a look at it, shrugged its shoulders and gave it a collective “no thanks”. The improvement to the home TV watching experience – coinciding with the trend for young people to watch programmes on non-TV devices – simply didn’t warrant buying an expensive new set.

If this is the problem, if the market just doesn’t fancy a piece of wearable technology, the problem could be insoluble. There’s another deeper answer, though. Many smart watches, whether from Fitbit or Apple’s second tranche of devices, are sold as fitness aids.

Too much research says it doesn’t actually work. Tracking how many steps you take during the day might seem a good idea but if, as one wag in the national press pointed only last week, this means you now know how many paces it takes to get to the biscuit tin, you’re not going to lose any weight.

Further, there is the advice the device offers when you fall below target. Your editor has been wearing a Samsung S2 for a few months and in a sedentary occupation frequently fails to reach his target of 10,000 steps per day. The watch has therefore recommended…lowering the target. This isn’t going to help anybody lose weight or reduce their blood pressure either.

Even if it worked, you have to ask how many people bought stop watches or other sporting watches compared to ordinary timepieces, before the market moved to telling the time on your phone.

There may be an answer but it involves repositioning wearables.

Are these business products?

Although people have been calling devices “wearables” for only a short time, people have been wearing devices for longer. A mechanical watch might not be digital but it’s still a piece of technology and people have been wearing them for a century or so (in fact the New York Times reported in 1916 about the curious trend towards people wearing bracelets with clocks on them).

Consider also headsets in a business setting. People wear them without thinking about it, in contact centres, when driving an older car without a built-in hands free kit. People will be pleased to wear technology a lot of the time but there is a caveat.

They need to know what it is for.

If it is “for” fitness and the research says it doesn’t work, then frankly the manufacturers can whistle for a £300 spend per unit on it. However, let’s get back to your editor’s smart watch.

When hosting a corporate or editorial event it’s very useful to have a little buzz when a change is due in the schedule, without ostentatiously getting the phone or tablet out. When in a meeting and expecting an important text or other message, seeing it on the watch face is equally beneficial. Turn by turn directions to assignations when on foot as well as in a vehicle is also handy.

None of this justifies the high price tags the manufacturers want, but they’re selling on the basis of a flawed model that touts the products as fitness aids. Bin this and start selling them as organisational aids for the busy executive and you might, just might, find a more reasonably-priced offering starts to take off.

In the meantime, if October’s sales data (see link above) is correct, manufacturers could be facing the next 3D TV debacle at a point when the world economies are least equipped to face it.