Wearables: a Trend or a Fad?

800.jpgWho would have thought! A product that gets hammered by every critic sells close to a million!  Have the critics got out of sync with the market trends or the appetite for new technology, no matter how expensive, restrictive or shoddy, has grown amongst the consumers?  The products out in the market that fall under the category of wearables are all pricey, have limited or restrictive use cases, cannot work unless accompanied by a smartphone and have awkward designs.  To top it all they need to be plugged in, just like the rest of gadgets in our lives.

Irrespective, the race is on.  Manufacturers are keen to get a first mover advantage and a foot in the door before Apple introduces a product that leaves a sliver of market share for others to fight over.  Having used a smart watch for over couple of months now, my opinion is that there’s a lot to be desired for wearables to become a trend.  They will remain a fad or niche segment till some of the fundamental issues do not get addressed.

Battery:  I never have to charge my watch.  I change the battery once a year or so and it continues to work.  A smart watch or other wearables need to achieve the same level of power consumption. It is highly annoying when you pick up your smart watch and see its smartness drained away because you forgot to charge it over the last three days!

Use cases:  Current use cases of wearables are very narrow and restrictive.  In case of smart watches, notifications, for incoming calls or messages, are good but not compelling enough for mass adoption.  Other use cases like camera, weather, news and stock market updates are awkward at best.  If you consider the large demographic of aging population then some of these may not even be useful due to limitations of screen size.

Design:  The fitness bands have a reasonable design but the smart watches on the market today look outright ugly and come in only one single design.  To really make the breakthrough the wearables have to become a fashion statement rather than a conversation topic in any social setting.  Along with the design they have to come in different shapes, sizes and forms – square, round, super slim, rugged, and more.

Be smart:  Most of the wearables today borrow their smartness from a paired smartphone.  The smart watch becomes a regular watch if  the smartphone drops out of its Bluetooth range.  Yes, it’s for conserving power but if I have to carry phone to make my watch act smart then it becomes more of a hassle than convenience.

These are not unsolvable problems.  As technology advances in SoCs, displays and power management the use cases and form factors will evolve.  To gain a sizable market and create a first mover advantage the manufacturers will have to solve, at the very least, the battery life and design problems.  The rest will follow.  Maybe it’s time to bring back the quartz movement of yester years that made the watch ‘automatic’ with no need to wind it every day!

Opinions expressed herein are my own and do not represent that of my employer, Intel Corporation.