Are We Really Ready for Wearable Tech?

From Google Glass to Apple Health, wearable technology jumped into the mainstream this past year. The new market made great strides, but a majority of potential users wonders whether we are ready for this latest tech craze. Google and its $1,500 Glass believes it is; and so do Apple, LG, Samsung and the myriad others who rolled out their newest gadgets over the past year. The End of the Smartphone Despite the fanfare that accompanied the launch of Apple’s iPhone 6 this fall, overall sales of smartphone devices, while continuing to grow, appear to be leveling off. This result saw companies move toward smaller wearable devices that aim to link multiple devices together. Wearable technology represents a broad spectrum of items, including fitness trackers, smart glasses, smartwatches, and smart clothing. While not aiming to immediately overtake smartphones, as most wearable devices still need a smartphone to function at full capacity, the wearable sector is growing into its own and could soon be a leading source of tech companies’ revenue as interest develops. As 2015 dawns, some analysts’ and observers’ claims that the end of the smartphone is near seem less founded on the future than on current trajectories. Many are hopeful that the next 12 months will continue to show strength for the fast-growing sector. A $330 million industry worldwide, digital fitness trackers are currently the most popular type of wearable device. “Most wearables are not meant to replace smartphones,” CNN Money’s Heather Kelly wrote. “Instead, they work as satellite devices that amass useful data or relay notifications from a primary mobile device. If they have screens, they can display simplified versions of mobile apps.” Expected Growth of Wearables Market research group ReportLinker found that the wearable tech market is expected to grow to around $60 billion in revenue by 2018. That would be annual growth of around $15 billion over the next three years, showing that companies have much faith in the direction interest for new devices could have on the population. One of the main reasons for the growth and excitement in wearables was the controversy this year over Google Glass, a $1,500 product that the tech elite have praised for its innovation, allowing Explorers – as Google dubs them – to take video, send messages, post photos and make voice calls. Several cafes, bars, and restaurants have barred these “Explorers” from wearing the device in their facilities. While personal rights activists have praised the moves, it resulted in a barrage of media hype over the devices, ultimately spurring their initial success this year. It also gives us a look into the future of wearable tech and the privacy and rights concerns these devices will bring up. Betting on the Market Google unveiled its latest Android generation for mobile platforms at the I/O developer conference in 2014. “Android L will face the same problems that have faced earlier incarnations of Android, and that is that the migration rate will be glacially slow, and that the majority of existing Android users will need to buy new devices in order to benefit,” tech analyst Adrian Kingsly-Hughes wrote of the new platform. But with Google, Samsung, and Apple all vying for their own share of the wearables sector, developing better operating systems could determine who can reach the summit and stay there longest. Looking to the Future Controversies aside, wearable technology is likely to become part of our daily lives, regardless of individual desires. Wearables are already proving successful for those seeking to monitor their health, integrate their clothing into their technology, and bring daily tasks into one outlet. Why wouldn’t someone want to have a smartwatch that works also as a heart monitor and sugar level reader for diabetics, while making voice calls, sending text messages, and prompting calendar reminders? J.P. Gownder of Forrester Research argues that he expects 80 percent or more wearable devices to fail in the next two years, but that this should not be seen as detrimental to the overall trajectory that wearables are heading. The statistics back this argument. This year, 90 million wearable devices were shipped, according to numbers published by ABI Research, so we know there’s demand. Maybe we aren’t quite ready for wearables, but we’re getting close. Image by Ted Eyaton/Flickr Need faster speeds for your current Internet service? [zipfinder]

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Joseph Mayton is a long-time journalist, having covered Middle East conflicts for a decade. He now lives in San Francisco and focuses on the intersection of technology and society.

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