Swiss watch vs Smart watch
An article in the New York Times points out the major problem with current wearable technologies, expensive reminders of how wearable gadgets are not ready for prime time. As a result, most gadgets end up gathering dust, with Google, Jawbone and Fitbit al failing to provide devices that consumers actually accept.
The combination of high prices, lack of accuracy “another tracker … once told me I had walked three miles while I sat on my couch eating popcorn and watching a movie” and quick obsolesce is holding back the entire market. In contrast to most smart watches, which are expensive toys that will soon be gathering dust with my Nokia Communicator 9000 and Palm Pilot V, my Breitling Aerospace ‘non smart’ watch that in real terms probably cost around twice the price of a smart watch has provided 15 years of daily use and will probably give at least 15 more.
Wearable Technologies Need More than Silicon + Software
The problem with most wearable technology businesses is that the business model requires owning the whole value chain, from the sensor to the data. Taking a silicon centric view of the technology is a classic example of the availability cognitive bias – “we know silicon and software so let’s use it.” This type of narrow bias assumes that the answer to everything is silicon + software + smartphone and as we know from Innovation 101, starting with the solution is always a bad idea, in any business.
A different, and hopefully more productive approach is to start by identifying the unmet need. In this case people want to view to monitor things about themselves which could include heart rate, blood pressure, hydration levels but they don’t want to make any effort to collect the data and of course they want everything to be simple and unobtrusive as possible. It turns out the solution to “wearables you won’t want to wear “is all around us, literally!
The Solution Is In Your Closet (Or Soon Will Be)
Smart clothing is an idea that has been tried without success for over a decade. The biggest hurdle has been integrating the sensor with the textile and most attempts so far have been somewhat clunky. I wrote an article looking at failed history of smart textiles last year.
But some of work I’m doing with Tamicare at the moment might just make where are technologies something you keep in your underwear drawer not the junk drawer. By combining smart and two-dimensional materials with textiles and producing these using additive manufacturing both garments and sensors can be mass produced in the same process. That solves the data acquisition problem, creating a mass market platform for all the smartphone manufacturers and app writers to work with.
The lesson here is not dissimilar from any new technology in that for consumers to accept and innovation it also needs to feel familiar. Steve Jobs got this right with the iPod, iPhone and IPad being simple enough for a two-year-old to master. When wearable technologies become an invisible part of our daily routine then we really see the sector take off. While we wait for graphene based tattoos and bionic implants smart textiles will be the key enabler.