Wearable Tech: Going Too Far?

Category: Gadgets

Is there anything else that tech companies can get you to buy, now that you have a PC, a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet? How about eyeglasses, wristwatches, hats, belts, shoes, shirts, pants, underwear, socks, and shoes full of electronics? Welcome to the Next Big Thing: wearable tech with internet connectivity...

What is Wearable Tech?

Analysts at Credit Suisse say the wearable tech market is poised to explode from $3-5 billion today to as much as $50 billion in the next five years. Robert Scoble, a tech evangelist with Rackspace Hosting, predicts that in five years you’ll be wearing 100 “sensors” connected to the Internet cloud. Venture capital guru Mary Meeker says wearable tech is a major technology shift akin to desktop PCs and mobile computers, one that is developing even faster than those revolutionary innovations did.

Wearable tech has been around for a very long time, of course. Shoes are wearable tech; so are mechanical wristwatches. The calculator watches of the 1970s better fit the popular conception of “technology” because they involve electronics and computing. Today, miniaturization and wireless communication are enabling next-generation wearable tech. It’s now possible to pack serious computational power into a conveniently wearable package. Wearables gain even more power by connecting them to the Internet with wifi, or via the smartphone or tablet that you carry.

Wearable Tech

Convenience is one of the selling points of wearable tech. Instead of fumbling in a pocket for a smartphone, Google Glass can be used instantly with a spoken command or head gesture. You can check your inbox for messages with a glance at a smart wristwatch. By golly, you can even read the time in less than 5 seconds!

Rumors abound about smartwatches. Some existing and upcoming devices will power instant messaging, phone calls, email, Facebook and Twitter interaction, and maybe even double as e-book readers. Typically these gadgets interface with your smartphone via a bluetooth connection.

“Augmented reality” is a big part of wearable tech. Google Glass, a smartwatch, or just about any souped-up, hooked-up wearable item can give you more information about what you’re experiencing than your five senses alone can. For example, while looking at a landmark, a painting, or a person's face, you could identify it with a Web search, or view its Wikipedia entry.

Interactivity with the user is a distinctive capability of wearable tech. The MindWave Mobile is an existing device that can read and display your brainwaves. There's even a MindPlay interface which allows users to control computers and smartphones. Other wearables have sensors that can monitor your vital signs, capturing data about your stress levels, activity rate, sleep habits, and other health indicators. Your golf swing, running style, and other athletic actions can be monitored and devices can issue corrective alerts in real time. All of this data can be uploaded to other devices for obsessive-compulsive analysis later.

A myriad of products that monitor one’s bodily functions and performance are available, and significant numbers of health-conscious people buy them. Some are rather awkward, like the Armour 39 Fitness Belt; it wraps around your chest, monitoring heart rate and other vital signs, using a smartphone or smartwatch to display its readings. The Nike FuelBand is a simple wristband with a digital display that uses an accelerometer to measure physical exercise activity in “Nike Fuel” units. There’s even a wearable exercise monitor for pets called Fitbark.

Wearable health and fitness monitors can also upload their data to the cloud, which poses some interesting potential consequences. Your health insurance premiums may be reduced if you can prove, with data from wearable tech, that you are taking steps to stay fit. But there are obvious privacy concerns, and the potential for coercive insurance pricing based on whether one is “willing” to share such data. And what if your wearable tech device gets hacked, or tapped? Yikes.

And then there are the silly, the bizarre, and the questionably useful wearables. Maybe you've already seen t-shirts and hats that act as wifi detectors. The Hug Shirt has sensors that detect and remotely recreate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion. In the May 15 Geekly Update I mentioned diapers that can communicate via Twitter. And for extra credit, you can search on your own for "haptic underwear."

Wearable tech is the new frontier for product designers and marketers. The virtually infinite applications of wearable tech make it inevitable that we will see a flood of good, bad, and downright silly products. It’s going to be a long decade for consumers weary of aimless “innovation.”

Tell me about your favorite examples of wearable tech, and what you think of the idea. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Wearable Tech: Going Too Far?"

Posted by:

06 Jun 2013

Hey Bob how about copper implants? For years folks like me have sworn by the pain reducing capabilities of a simple copper band (the jury is out on whether the activity is electrical - my belief - or chemical or even placebo), but new in Israel is copper woven into textiles to zap germs and aid recovery in hospitals! Yes they seem to have proved it works... Does that qualify as wearable tech? I think it does.

Posted by:

06 Jun 2013

I think at this point, I will revert to Luddism, and forego being plugged in. I am already overwhelmed with my Kindle, IPod, desk computer and scientific calculator.

Posted by:

Ralph Bruechert
06 Jun 2013

Good gravy! It seems that technology has taken over some people's common sense. I enjoy using my smartphone, knowing I can check email, weather, or my personal calendar on a moment's notice. But items like Google glass is, IMHO, going too far. I'm waiting for a story about someone run over by a bus because he/she was paying more attention to a connected device. Or did I just miss it?

Are we as a people becoming so intellectually vacant that we need constant internet connectivity? One can only hope this is a passing fad, but somehow I don't think so.

Posted by:

Ihor Prociuk
06 Jun 2013

Hi Bob:
It's more than just you interacting with wearable devices, it's devices interacting with each other (often referred to as the "Internet of Things"). Here's an interesting WIRED article:
Welcome To The Programmable World
In the article, the author imagines a lawn sprinkler that "talks" to a moisture sensor to "know" when to water the lawn. You don't have to imagine: see http://www.myplantlink.com/
Sensors could be hooked up to the Internet and "know" about weather patterns and history. It may be better to wait a day so that natural rain can do the job.
I agree with you: there will be silly, bizarre, and maybe even useful products. When cars became popular, who could have imagined suburbs, turnpikes, drive-in movies, drive-thru banking and shopping malls! Remember, we change technology then technology changes us!

Posted by:

Richard Dengrove
06 Jun 2013

I have seen science fiction novels predicting wearable tech, especially glasses that can access the web. Of course, the future can play tricks on the most compelling prediction.

Posted by:

06 Jun 2013

Only problem with some of these minaturized devices you wear such as wristwatches is they aren't too usable as people get older. I have enough trouble reading my cellphone. Making things smaller on a wristwatch or eyeglasses won't cut it for me. Or displaying only a word or two at a time and constanly scrolling.

Posted by:

08 Jun 2013

How many accidents are caused, deaths caused by distracted drivers? And now with Google glasses how much more distracted are we going to be? Looking at a little screen instead of the road where our full focus and attention should be. I really see problems down the road for some of this. I have heard of the doctor that is connected (TO HIMSELF) which is, I think a great idea but it won't go far because the medical industry won't make enough money on it. As with any new "advancements"??? There could be good or bad but honestly the glasses thing is scary to contemplate.

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