Just a year ago, wearables were white-hot. Everyone was talking about them, everyone was writing about them, and they were at the tippy-top of the Gartner Hype Curve. Everyone thought they’ll change the world.
They will. But not yesterday.
It was impossible for the hype to measure up with reality. The hype probably funded a bunch of start-up — most of which were better left unfunded and got money just so a VC could brag about it at Pebble Beach. So inevitably, the same press that hyped wearables in January were writing “unfulfilled expectation” stories in July. Here we are a year later, and it’s time to look back, separate out the hype, and see what really happened.
In no particular order:
Salesforce enters the wearables market. We’ve long believed that the real power of wearables will be in enterprise and groupware markets. Salesforce sits squarely in the middle of those markets, and acts as software infrastructure for more companies than you could believe. By announcing an API to work with wearables, Salesforce radically dropped the price and complexity facing device and software makers who want to get into the enterprise wearable business.
Apple announces the Apple Watch. In some ways, it was an anticlimax. In others, it was a relief that allowed everyone to go back to what they were doing. And in yet other ways, it was a groundbreaking entry into the fashion accessory business that Apple’s been hinting around for years. The Watch won’t ship until sometime next year — presumably February or March — but it changed the conversation and expectation about wearables.
The wristware market segmented. A year ago, fitness trackers cost about $120. Today, there are trackers for $50 (and a Chinese one for $9), premium ones for $150 to $200, and a high end around $400 to $500. They’re segmented by function, materials, and fashion. Then there are the athletic band makers, who have their own segments. Small markets don’t have segments like that, because they can only support one-size-fits-all. For segments, you need big markets, and that’s where we are today.
Intel moves aggressively into the market. In February, two top-level Intel execs told the world’s press that the company had no intention of getting into the consumer products business. A few weeks later, they bought Basis, which makes athletic trackers. Intel, which more or less lost the mobile phone chip business to Qualcomm, has been building bridges with both the fashion community (alliances with the CFDA and designers such as Opening Ceremony) and the hacker community, with the Edison and Galileo platforms. It may have missed mobiles, but Intel’s not missing wearables.
Fashion reasserts itself. It would be a poorer and uglier world if tech-enabled clothing were designed by engineers. This year, fashion designers started to pay attention to wearables in a big way. From the Intel/Opening Ceremony MICA cuff to Ralph Lauren’s relabeling of an OMSignal shirt to a Victoria’s Secret sensor-laden sports bra, the fashion community is figuring out how to take advantage of the functions of wearable tech with the form of clothing and accessories that people want to wear.
Connected fabrics. The real world of clothing and the necessities of technology are often at odds. With DuPont’s stretchable conductive ink, breakthroughs in flexible circuitry, and alliances with rivals Clothing+ and OMSignal, we started to see the foundations of practical mass-market connected clothing.
Glass busts out. Google Glass went from being the poster child of the wearables world in a good way to the poster child in a bad way. We saw way fewer people wearing it at conferences at the end of the year than at the beginning — not the trend you want. On the other hand, goggles from Vusix, Epson, and others started making their way into enterprise pilot programs. The problem isn’t so much the form, it’s the use case. No one has yet made a compelling case for walking around with a visor on the street, but they are making a case for using it in industry.
Notification bands get hot. This time last year, people didn’t seem to understand why you’d want to see your texts or Caller ID on your wrist instead of on your phone. As the year went on, people got it. Android Wear devices were popular enough, but there were lots of other options including Pebble. Your phone used to be the “second screen;” now, the second screen has its own second screen. Next step: bands that don’t need the phone at all.
Bluetooth 4.2 spec is issued. This one seems to be aimed at the geeks, but you’ll get its importance soon enough: the latest version of Bluetooth lets your device skip the smartphone and talk directly to the Internet. No SIM card needed, just a router that can speak Bluetooth 4.2 as well as WiFi. That will allow for smaller devices (Bluetooth takes less power than WiFi and therefore smaller batteries) and a changed relationship between your devices, your phone and your data.