Wearables – the buzz word in 2015 in the world of technology. Yes we saw the inauguration of “wearables” in 2014, with headline launches of products such as Google Glass and Apple Watch, but it is widely predicted that in 2015 we will experience the penetration of these devices in to the mass market. These technologies, which include but go beyond smart watches, are set to grow exponentially with a predicted market value of £3.3bn in 2015 – rising to £5bn by 2018, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). The significance was felt no more than at the CES expo in Las Vegas this year, where around 20% of the technology showcased fell in to the wearables category.
Launches by Apple and Samsung in 2014 brought the potential of wearables to the forefront –grabbing headlines and igniting a desire for gathering more and more data about ourselves. Fitness trackers have been an early example of that newly coined phrase -“wearable” technology - that has been adopted, giving the wearer the data to understand more about their activities and health in an instant. I have personally trialled the Jawbone UP, and I continue to experiment with Push, which is more aligned to my fitness training of choice, weight-training.
Wearable technology: not as new as you think
Is “wearable” simply a new term for a type of technology we’ve had around for years – that which we wear? Wearable tech has been with us for a long time – arguably since the invention of armour, but certainly since the Casio calculator watch of the 1980s, through the days we all wore pagers in the 90s, and not forgetting the stalwart Sony Walkman either – what, if not a “wearable”? The Walkman also drove a second market in “man bags” like today’s gadgets have done - where else would you have put your cassette tapes or CDs?
The path to mass adoption
Some more recent developments have hit stumbling blocks as manufacturers test consumer reactions to how prepared they are to wear smart devices. For example, smart watches have been adopted more easily than smart glasses – thought mainly due to users already being accustomed to the principle of wearing a watch. Breaking down barriers to further adoption and expanding in to the mainstream will be down to making wearables both aesthetically pleasing and comfortable while also being intuitive and easy to operate. This is an evolutionary process all fashion brands work through. From the catwalk to the high street, adaptations to meet the needs of the mainstream are essential for acceptance - I didn’t clip on my Pebble smart watch until the Steel version was released. For mass adoption to become reality, technology companies need to think more like fashion brands. Apple is leading the charge here with its forthcoming smart watch, and others will follow.
Context is key
As the wearable technology market moves its focus from merely mobile compatible to stand alone devices, the services industry must develop ways to use this technology to benefit the consumer. Deliver them high quality, reliable data that enhances their lives at the precise time it is needed. Leaders in the retail industry are already using the cloud to target their marketing campaigns while the shopper is in store. How long before your wearable reminds you as you walk past John Lewis that you were browsing their luggage range online three days ago, and asks you if you would like 20% off today?
Payments and financial management
The key to leading the way in delivering this information is in the ability of developers to integrate this information into usable packages for different touch points – be it PC, mobile, watch or kiosk. Contactless payment systems are already proving popular in the UK. Barclays have integrated the technology into gloves that enables the wearer to pay for goods by simply swiping the gloves above a pay terminal.
Yes, this technology could lead to a world where we do away with traditional payment systems using plastic or paper in exchange for goods. This step change has already begun – could it lead to an environment whereby our technology will know exactly what we have picked up in store and charge it to our account as we leave, removing the physical process of payment? That is the unknown arena we are heading towards.
The information age of banking will go further than this though; it’s not merely about making transactions simpler but about making each transaction a consequence of a considered understanding of the financial picture. How could this information help the user? It could instantly advise the wearer exactly how much they have spent on anything from coffee to train tickets in a given month, helping with budget management. It could tell them how much they’ve paid for an item before at the point of purchase, helping them to get greater value from their spend. Delivering this information at the time of use unlocks valuable information for making informed financial decisions. Nationwide already provides a service using smart watches that allows users to be sent their current balance at a set time each day – the balance can even be used as a wake-up call. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea yet, but possibly a motivator to reject your comfy bed and head out with coffee in hand to seize opportunities of the day!