At the end of each year, tech journalists are usually called upon to predict the year ahead. Having been in the predictions business as a strategic analyst and a journo, I try to keep in mind two maxims:
“If you’re going to make predictions, make a lot of them. People remember the hits and forget the misses.” — unknown, but possibly economist Milton Friedman
“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” — William Gibson
tl;dr: 2014 will show incremental improvements in wearable products, but advances in underlying technology will set the table for an explosive 2015. (Click through to see much more.)
The easy predictions for 2014 in wearables are the same as for any technology always: smaller, faster, cheaper, more powerful. But for wearables, those sort of miss the point. What we need is smarter, and we need breakthroughs that answer the question, “Why Bother?” We need the sort of innovations that hustle the category along the Gartner hype curve, lest it wallow in the trough of “So What?”
2014 will not be the breakthrough year that some are looking for. I have no problem believing all the analyst predictions of rapid sales growth, but 2014 will be the table-setting year for real growth in 2015. To people watching the industry casually, 2014 will look like a disappointment. To those looking beneath the surface, 2014 is when all the hard work will get done that will enable 2015 to explode.
Distrbution channels for startup wearable technology will stay difficult through 2014. Kickstarter/Indiegogo campaigns will continue to be key for startup products, and two or three will achieve real scale and be acquired. Big venture investors will continue to shy away from wearables for most of the year, though angels will be a little more aggressive. When VCs do dip in, they will invest more in technologies than products. But once you see the first investments, which will be smart, there will be a rush of money into a lot of very bad ideas.
The beginning of 2014 will be dominated by wristwear of increasing sophistication. Metrics like heart rate and functions like GPS will migrate from special-application (and more expensive) wristbands from the likes of Garmin and Polar to the lower-priced mid-market represented by Nike and Fitbit. Those less-expensive bands will get better and more accurate software, and their online ecosystems will become steadily easier to use.
Also, there will be wristwear that’s truly mass market but with fewer functions, selling for well under $100.
An important differentiator between the mid- and mass-market devices will be the software. In particular, expect real movement toward an industry-wide API that will allow any device to work with any back-end software.
Later in the year, expect more and lower-priced Glass-type products, as OEM platforms begin to reach resellers and the consumer market. Most of them will run some variant of the Android operating system; none will get real market traction, some some of them will attract media attention.
Componentry will be more interesting. Expect significant progress in flexible circuitry, although large production numbers will not be achieved in 2014. Battery tech will continue significant advances; coupled with improvements in software and increasing adoption of more advanced Bluetooth standards, expect charging requirements to drop from every 3 to 5 days to every 2 to 4 weeks.
The fashion industry will continue to struggle with the differing production needs of clothing and technology in the mass market. There will be some very splashy displays in the haute section of the industry, but very little will seep through to anything beyond the stage or runway. The sportswear and activewear segments will continue to be the sectors with the greatest use of wearable tech; expect to see advances in sport-specific applications for swimming, cycling, hockey, and snow sports. Also, expect to see weather-related sensors and applications for high-end outerwear.