Wearable technology is evolving beyond Inspector Gadget-style smartwatches. Mobile manufacturers and chipmakers are realising the potential of the technology, with firms including LG, Sony and Samsung all offering their own wearable solutions.
After dominating at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, many experts are convinced of an upsurge in the adoption of wearable tech in 2014.
As wearable tech now spans rings, socks and t-shirts, use cases are fast appearing for wearable technology as the answer to needs in some key niches. For example, the technology’s monitoring capabilities are touted as the ideal solution for an over-stretched NHS, through a growing number of fitness apps allowing consumers to manage their own health.
Sami Mughal, hardware design engineer and founder of technology firm OxGadgets, says: ‘All of a sudden the likes of LG are producing smartwatches that monitor your health, tell you the time, and give you notifications.’ Mughal cited the example of LG’s LifeBand. ‘Sensors and intelligence are getting smaller, and screen technology is getting better.
‘Of course, we cannot rule out the influence the [Apple] iWatch will have,’ he adds.
Wearable tech on a mobile contract
The move towards wearable technology is an extension of the socalled ‘internet of things’ devices, says James Chandler, head of mobile at media agency Mindshare UK. As such, it is likely to start edging into consumers’ daily lives within the next few years.
He suggests that users could be offered wearable solutions as an additional device on a mobile phone contract, as operators strive to encourage consumer take up.
As part of this, Chandler predicts an influx of connected rings and jewellery. ‘You will see things becoming smaller and smaller,’ he says.
Chandler also believes that this type of technology will soon be sold by nonspecialist retailers. He cites the example of a company called Rochester Optical, which has created the first prescription lenses for Google Glass spectacles. ‘You will be going into shops and buying them like you would your normal glasses,’ he says. ‘And in a few years that will be the same for contact lenses.’
Just ‘a gimmick’
However, Allistair Booth, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, says technology companies must work hard to show that areas like health sector can achieve tangible benefits. ‘People have to stop making gimmicks,’ he tells Mobile. ‘It really does require someone to start thinking about a healthcare or sports solution, rather than just a gadget that measures.’
Booth cites Smart Life Technologies, as an example. It has created a T-shirt for post-operative cardiac monitoring. It can also be used to monitor sports players such as footballers and Formula One drivers.
Wearable tech could find applications in the corporate world, where it could oust the lanyard: a simple band on employees’ arms could control access, and monitor work hours and absenteeism.
Wearable tech: the smartphonereplacement?
Some experts say that wearable technology will become so much part of consumers’ everyday lives that it could even replace the smartphone. But it is more likely that it will sit alongside mobile devices, as tablets do today. Booth’s colleague Indra Bhattacharya, senior associate at law firm Pinsent Masons, agrees that wearable tech is ‘essentially a novelty and something that we need to find a use for’.
He tells Mobile: ‘In terms of the business world, the key to success is when you have the technology that combines something that is useful, serves a need and is easy to use. It is about the iPhone moment.’
Opportunities in the mobile industry lie not only in the devices themselves, but in the huge amounts of data they generate. However, as large amounts of information is collected by these devices, it is possible privacy issues could emerge.
There are also no protocols governing wearable technology. ‘We need someone to govern the code that we use; it needs operators to come together and do something,’ Chandler says. ‘Also, the manufacturers all have their own ecosystems. That, over the next couple of years, is going to be a battle.’