Why wearable technology may not be successful

September 9th, 2013

and why Apple might not launch the much rumoured iWatch…

I would like to trace the genesis of wearable technology not merely from the time we started to “wear” our computers, but from the time when miniaturization took place, and we started to integrate circuits into our fashion accessories, or clothing.

It might still be considered hip to don a shirt that wears the color of your mood, but do wait until it goes red with rage when you wanted it to go green with envy – the consequences of “a little too much” might just prevent you from taking the decision of wearing your mood to a social gathering.

Electronic Interference. Any device that has a transistor embedded inside it, will have at least a minuscule amount of electromagnetic radiation associated with it. I remember my childhood days, when we used to have CRT monitors for our computers and CRT based television screens, which created an ultra-high frequency buzz which can create disturbances across rooms. Similar disturbances exist with every electronic device, which creates a natural instinct for us to not wear our electronic devices for long.

Innovation. Electronics have been around in wrist watches since ages. The early eighties itself saw the Casio Databank which could store an address book, memos and calendar entries. There were other imitations also available, and many of these became a fad for some time, but never really took over the watch market like the iPhones, Androids and Blackberries changed how we use the cellphone.

What already exists, or isn’t used anymore. Wrist watches which can monitor blood pressure, blood sugar, check temperature, calculate your calorific spend during your morning jog are not novel innovations today. They have been around for a while and this technology clicks with only a small number of people. There is no vastly conceivable demand for such technology, that shows potential for a company like Apple to invest in such wearable technology, that will change the way people wear wrist watches.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been in argument with a lot of people around this. Many claim it would be increasingly convenient if they could see push notifications of their email or news flashes etc. on their wrist while driving, or get navigation prompts. But if you think practically, much of these applications already exist with wearable devices such as the Nike Fuel Band. And while extensive smart phone users continue to demand more battery life from their devices, increasing connectivity with wearable technology only increases the drain on your limited source of juice for the day.

Privacy Concerns. Then there are privacy concerns with wearable technology. I personally am very cautious about conversing with people who’ve got a bluetooth earpiece poking out of their ears. Firstly, it can be very annoying if they have their phones on auto-answer mode, incase they suddenly switch to talking to another person over the phone, or you realize they were holding on to a conversation while sharing a few words with you. There are already expressed concerns about Google Glass, and could be even more with smart watches under the cuffs, which could be a nuisance to privacy. We certainly do not want to look at people asking you to take your wrist watches off before you attend a meeting or a conference.

What if. Last, if the innovation team at Apple still wants to explore the realm of wearable technology, then looking at the precedence set for the times when we saw inventions like the iPod, the iPhone and the App Store come into place, we must see something radically different in the much touted iWatch, which would make it stand apart from the crowd. This means, the device will

  • not just be a watch, it will not be a tiny iPhone clone strapped to your wrist.
  • it will do something that satisfies a human need that’s enhanced by the security of your wrist, perhaps something like a wallet feature that’s practically implemented.
  • it will do more than send you push notifications for news, weather, email and stocks, monitoring your health, calorific intake or your morning jog.
  • it should have disruptive technology embedded within, which costs more than $400-$500 for companies to offer it with a subsidy.

Right now, the touted features of the so-called iWatch are not seeming likely to create ripples in wearable technology. The space will see excitement from other players in the market who are crowding in on the rumours, but will it actually be an innovative point of inflection for technology, and how we use it in future, will remain to be seen.

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