If pundits are right, before long pulling your phone out to text or email, or heaven forbid, to make a call, will mark you as being hopelessly unhip.
The total number of people around the globe using “smart” wearable devices will more than triple in the next 12 months, according to analysts Forrester Research. Some 10 million consumers are expected to buy the Apple Watch. (By comparison, Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6 and 6+ in the first weekend of sales.) This is just the beginning of what analysts say will be a major shift in the way we communicate.
According to a Forrester survey some 42% of people in the U.S. and 32% of those in Europe expect to buy a wearable device in 2015.
The failure of Google Glass to capture the consumer market was due to a lack of must-have applications and is not expected to dampen enthusiasm for the next generation of wearables, says James McQuivey, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst.
Revenue for the global wearable electronics market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 24.56% and cross $11 billion by the end of 2020, according to MarketsandMarkets, a U.S.-based market research company.
Mobile Moments of Need
“Apple Watch will be a big driver of the market but Apple is not interested in creating a device for your body,” says McQuivey. “They are going for an all-body network; it will reach out to envelop you with a series of devices — maybe there will be another one for your ear, a camera for your lapel or something for your eyeglass frame.
“The point is to provide communication and collaboration in all of the touchpoints of your life. It is the services that Apple will create on top of that that will create a much deeper digital experience.”
In addition to Apple, major players include Motorola, Samsung Group, Sony Corporation, LG, Adidas and Nike, as well as emerging players like Withings, Fitbit and Jawbone.
Smart watches and earpieces that are able to communicate with smartphones allow people to address “mobile moments of need” and take care of things as they occur to them while on the move, says McQuivey, who will be leading a discussion about wearables at LeWeb, an annual Internet conference in Paris from December 9th to 11th.
Say you are walking down the street, rushing to a meeting, and you remember you have to remind your daughter of a doctor appointment. Instead of stopping, taking out your phone and awkwardly inputting a message (there is a reason why people include “excuse my fat finger typing” in their texts) these devices will allow you to use your watch to make a quick call or tell your phone to send a preset or dictated missive, he says.
Frontier Between Wellness And Health Will Disappear
For example, the Apple Watch, which is expected to go on sale in early 2015, claims to be able to predict what you want to say from the context of messages and the way you most often respond and will offer options to choose from that can be sent at the click of a button.
France’s Withings, a consumer electronics company that specializes in wellness and health devices, is launching its own smart watch as is Nevo, another French company. Both are integrating smart features into analog watches. While they don’t have as many bells and whistles as the Apple Watch these timepieces integrate fitness trackers — lessening demand for standalone devices — and unlike the Apple Watch they don’t need to be charged daily.
Withings’ Activité, which is expected to be available by year end, integrates a fitness tracker that records all of your movements and sleep patterns and communicates that data to a smartphone. The wristwatch has a smaller analog dial that tells you what percentage of your daily fitness goal has been completed. When you are ready to delve deeper into the data you can review it on your smartphone, says Cédric Hutchings, co-founder and CEO of Withings, which has raised €37 million.
While first-generation fitness trackers are niche and tend to be set aside after the novelty wears off, smart watches are naturally integrated into a person’s everyday life and have a better chance of being used regularly to truly change behavior, says Hutchings, a scheduled speaker at LeWeb. “We believe that the frontier between wellness and health will disappear and that people will begin placing themselves at the center of their own health management,” he says.
Even Google Glass May Have A Future
Withings, which also makes other devices “is trying to create a wellness network of devices and that network is going to cover your body with a variety of instruments and tools,” says McQuivey. “The Withings Activité, like the Moto 360 smart watch, appeals to people who want to integrate fitness into their lives but want an elegant watch as a statement of their identity. Other people want you to know they are wearing a smart watch. There are a variety of approaches and all of them work.”
Those who don’t want to wear a watch might opt for Motorola’s Hint. It connects to your phone by sensing when you place the device in your ear and uses voice to communicate with services and apps on your phone.
Smart watches and earpieces will soon communicate with yet more wearables. Cameras worn on the body could, for example, identify someone nearby who you know but haven’t seen in years, communicate that to the phone in your pocket and then whisper into your earpiece, ‘there’s Susan, you last saw [her] in 2009,’ says McQuivey. “Yes maybe people will be upset for a while but in four or five years capturing images won’t bother anyone,” he predicts.
Even Google Glass may yet have a future as a way to make businesses more efficient but its failure to capture the hearts of consumers is a lesson that other wearables manufacturers should heed, says McQuivey. Smart devices have to make our lives better or they will fail, he says. “There is nothing sexy about tech for its own sake.”