Dane Cobain shares his thoughts on wearable devices and artifical demand
If 2012 was the year of mobile (which, I’d argue, it wasn’t), then 2013 must surely be the year of wearable computing – it seems like new devices are everywhere, from the Pebble smartwatch, which has already been crippled by major delays, to the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Google Glass, the Apple iWatch and even a tweeting dress.
It’s clear to anyone with an interest in the industry that the major tech giants are mobilizing their armies of engineers and developers to fight the next major battle of the technology era – the battle for dominance in the emerging market for wearable computing devices. But I’m not convinced that they’ve thought things through.
Here’s why – it seems to me that companies like Apple, Samsung and Google are being forced into the wearables market due to artificial demand, thanks to the crazed media hype surrounding the latest rumors about any device that fits around your wrist or on your earlobes. Samsung, Apple and Pebble are chasing each other’s tails, caught up in the media hype and competing to get to market as quickly as possible.
The problem is, it seems as though the major manufacturers are focusing purely on profits and deadlines, hoping to capitalize on the publicity that surrounds these new devices without bothering to make a fantastic product. When the iPod came out, it revolutionized the way we listened to music. When the iPhone came out, it revolutionized the way we used our mobile phones. When the iPad came out, it revolutionized the way that we accessed and consumed information. When the Apple iWatch comes out, it’s going to need to do the same.
See, I don’t wear a watch, and I haven’t since I was given one as a gift as a youngster and had to wear it to school for a couple of weeks. I hated it – I never used it, and it got in the way and felt uncomfortable on my wrist. For a smartwatch to successfully convert a growing percentage of young British adults who don’t wear watches, it needs to do more to convince potential buyers of its value.
Most smartwatches are designed to augment a smartphone, to act as an expensive wrist-bound extension of an expensive device that we already carry around. Sure, some devices can monitor your pulse and your heart rate, tasks that your smartphone can’t do (at least, not without some help from their owners), but these gimmicky features are only of real use to sportsmen and to people with illnesses. I fall in to neither category, so what’s in it for me?
For a wearable device to really break new ground, it needs to empower us to do something that we can’t already do with other devices. Google Glass is getting closer to this, thanks to its nifty adaptation of the Android operating system, built-in cameras and its ability to project almost anything into the corner of your vision, but it’s still not perfect.
With Glass, I have the same problem that I have with the smartwatch – I don’t wear glasses, and I’m not inclined to start. I don’t even wear sunglasses – they feel uncomfortable on my face, and besides, they just don’t suit me. Glass might sound like a good idea in principle, but if Apple, Google and Samsung want me to start wearing their devices, they need to factor in the discomfort and inconvenience that such a product causes.
Most of these devices don’t even look good
Most of these devices don’t even look good – they’re computers first and fashion accessories later, despite the fact that they’ll be sitting on your wrist or on your face. Now, I’m not exactly the trendiest guy on the planet, but even I would draw the line at making myself look like Frankenstein’s monster in exchange for the ability to check my e-mails without taking my phone out of my pocket. If they want to experience true mainstream success, the tech giants will need more involvement from bona fide fashion designers and celebrity trendsetters.
Then there’s the cost to deal with, too – wearables need to either drop in price or add dramatic new functionality for them to appeal to the average person. Once you’ve put down a couple of grand for a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop, it’s unlikely you’ll be in the mood to spend a couple more on glasses and a watch. Hell, most people can’t even afford the latest iPhone unless they buy it with a contract.
There’s also the fact that, unless wearable devices go mainstream, you’ll look like an idiot when you talk to your glasses or your wristwatch on the bus or in the supermarket. I don’t even like talking on my mobile in public – speaking cryptic commands to my clothing sounds like my idea of hell.
And, to top it all off, there’s the inconvenience – And not just the inconvenience of wearing additional clothing in the first place. I already have to worry about whether I’ve grabbed my phone, my keys and my wallet – will I have to add glasses to the list, too? What about the people like myself who don’t wear glasses? Will they take them off and put them back on again every time they want to make another search? If so, isn’t it easier to use a smartphone in the first place?
Now, I’m a great believer in the power of technology to revolutionize our lives, and it’s been proven possible by the inventions of the internet, the smartphone and the tablet computer over the last twenty five years. And I’m sure that each of those inventions drew their fair share of criticism before their mainstream adoptions.
I’m just not convinced most people will be quick to adopt a wearable device. I work in social media myself, and the development of smart clothing should excite me – think of the opportunities! Unfortunately, I see it as just another gimmick, another way of leeching money from consumers in exchange for a device that feels incomplete, unready and entirely unnecessary. But that’s just me.
What are your thoughts on wearable computing? Are you keen to strap devices to your body or would you prefer to keep your clothing and your computers separate? Let us know with a comment!
About this guest author:
Dane Cobain is a social media specialist at fst the Group, a creative agency working with global clients with offices in the UK and Singapore. When he’s not creating content at work, he’s writing for socialbookshelves.com, his book review site at home.
Image credits: Smartphotostock.com