If you read the consumer tech press or the general interest press, you may have come to the conclusion that Wearables are Over. 2017 will put the lie to that.
It’s true that last year was challenging, and it’s clear that the wristband part of the industry has consolidated and stratified. But what we expect to happen in 2017 has very little to do with form factor and a great deal to do with use case.
We believe that 2017 is going to be the year that health and industrial applications of wearables become commonplace and mainstream. That doesn’t just mean the incorporation of fitness trackers into corporate wellness programs, although that’s clearly a trend that’s gathering steam. It means the placement of sensors in different places on the body and, more important, the maturation of software that can make a difference.
The piece parts of wearables — sensors, batteries, radios, displays — are pretty much (with some very notable exceptions) commodities. The software that drives them, however, is unique from device to device. It’s pretty simple to decide which sensor to use to count movement, and how to show that in an app. It’s far more complicated and resource-intensive to figure which sensor to use to unobtrusively gather bodily fluids and analyze them accurately.
For the last few years, the wearables industry has been essentially building increasingly sophisticated toys, some of them based on questionable science. But now, starting in 2017, the very hard work being done by serious people is going to come to the fore. We expect to see new products with non-trivial consumer use cases emerge, devices that need (and get) regulatory approval and acceptance by the medical community.
It takes time to get this stuff to market, and we’ve been seeing this wave building for the last 12 to 18 months. This year, 2017, is the year that the wave will crest and reach the beach.
The other significant trend of 2017 is the growing adoption of augmented reality. As with most cutting-edge tech, there’s a lot of smoke and snake oil here. (We’ve never been believers in Magic Leap, for instance.) But we know of one or two very neat purpose-built consumer devices in the works, and the state of the art of B2B-class visors continues to move ahead slowly.
A lot of industrial manufacturers having finished trials of wearables and are moving into actual deployments, which will help bring down the very high cost of industrial AR visors because of the intense economies of scale that apply to any tech product. And, of course, as prices come down, adoption will go up, which will bring prices down…
We’ve seen that movie before, and 2017 is the year it will unspool for industrial-purpose augmented reality.