At the recent tech shows, SES, MWC and now SXSW, the big talk was around wearable devices. However, they are not that new. We’ve had wearables for decades, in the form of:
- TV Wrist Watches
- GPS watches
- Bluetooth earpieces (popular with taxi drivers and nightclub bouncers)
- VR headsets
- LED T-Shirts
Predictions for wearable sales show growing numbers:
- Juniper estimates 70m wearable devices sold by 2017 of which 10m will be smartglasses.
- ABI research predicts that 90m wearables will be sold in 2014
Sounds like a lot? Compare that to smartphones, where 456m were sold in the third quarter in 2013, making sales of close to 1 billion per year. To give wearable uptake a bit more context, think about the rapid adoption rates of iPads or apps. There’s a long way to go for wearables.
I think there are three primary reasons why wearable uptake will be so slow:
- Most of these are essentially prototypes and just don’t work that well – Google Glass is still in beta, for example. Nearly 1/3rd of the first batch of Galaxy Gear watches were returned to the store
- Battery technology has lagged behind the development of computing. For example, many users have complained that life logging devices offer little more than an hour’s use (one hour doesn’t really count as life logging)
- Many people just don’t see the point. In a 2013 study, 20% of people in the UK said that they would like Glass banned in public. More recently, another survey found that 50% of owners didn’t use their fitness bands any longer.
This last point is the greatest barrier to adoption. Whilst online news and blogging sites are full of technologists who love all the gadgets, that doesn’t seem to represent the majority. Most people just aren’t that bothered. We love our smartphones, which have become the centre of our digital lives. Health is certainly one area where wearables can offer real benefits, but aside from specific applications, wearables have a long way to go before they become truly useful.