Views from the 2014 Wearable Tech Expo

Ed Lee
Aug 11, 2014

The 2014 Wearable Tech Expo was held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City at the end of July. The conference was focused on the emerging wearable device market and offered a wide range of speakers from device manufacturers and component suppliers to service providers and fashionistas. It drew hundreds of attendees, intent on learning more about what was happening in this market.

Here are some of the key things we took away from the conference: 

Wearables encompass many kinds of devices: glasses/heads-up displays (HUDs), earplugs, wristbands, watches, clothing, and shoes. However, fitness and activity tracking bands, watches, and heads-up displays get most of the media’s attention.

Expectations are high that this market will continue to grow and bloom into a multi-billion dollar industry. According to Shawn DuBravac, Chief Economist and Director of Research for CEA, the global market for wearables will generate between $4.5 and $9 billion in revenue this year and that between 22 and 28 million devices will be shipped.

Rob Chandhok, Senior Vice-President of chipmaker Qualcomm, talked about the fact that there are no cellular-connected wearables available today. However, adding cellular connectivity to some devices, like fitness  devices, is the next logical step in the evolution of wearables. There will be times when it is inconvenient to have a phone nearby but the need to transfer information real-time still exists. He added that all devices do not need to be cellular-enabled. Connectivity via phones and mobile routers will remain viable solutions. 

Smartwatches

Watches are no longer just for telling time and smartwatches are not about telling time more intelligently. During the conference, we concluded that the term “smartwatch” should be reassessed. If a primary function of the device is for telling time, then the term watch is appropriate. However, the term watch comes with certain preconceived notions/baggage. People have certain expectations for what a watch looks like and how it functions. As a result, deviating from a design perspective has caused some pushback among consumers, who say that much of the current crop is ugly or big and bulky. Motorola has developed the moto 360 watch with a round display that mimics a typical watch shape to combat the image that smartwatches are square and not fashionable.

Another argument against the use of the term “smartwatch” is that most young adults today do not wear watches, and did not grow up wearing them either. If they do wear a watch, it is as a fashion accessory, and not to tell time. If they need to know they time, they pull out their phones and read the display. Marketing smartwatches to this group requires convincing them to put on a “watch,” which would be a change in behavior and will take convincing for some. Therefore, the vendor’s job is twofold: first, convince them to wear a watch and then to wear their watch. We think terms like “smartband” or “smart wristband,” which are already in use, are more neutral and better to describe products that are worn on the wrist. If the industry continues to use the term smartwatch, it should work on expanding consumers’ perceptions of what a watch can do.

Heads-up displays/smartglasses

The consensus among several of the Expo speakers was that HUDs would likely migrate from the business and industrial environments to the consumer space over time. Today, they are being used as two-way communication devices for specific applications such as repair services, emergency response, and manufacturing. For now, the economics work better in a business environment, where ROI can justify higher-priced devices and lower sales volumes are acceptable. It is expected that vendors will work out the kinks, bugs, industrial designs, and user interface issues here first before making a run at the mass market. We expect that HUDs for consumers are still a ways away and today’s users of devices like Google Glass fall under the visionary/early adopter heading.

Chris Cox, President of Pivothead, spoke about the company’s glasses, which incorporate a camera into the nose bridge. Pivothead’s glasses are really capture devices designed to shoot photos and videos.

In many cases, they could be compared to life-logging or action/point-of-view cameras, but Cox believes these comparisons are too limiting given the various use cases for the glasses. At the Expo, Cox talked about the company’s newest SMART (Simple, Modular, Application-Ready, Technology) glasses, which will incorporate live video broadcasting to open up more sharing opportunities. This will require the addition of connectivity to the glasses (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) and the creation of a cloud-based system to host and broadcast the content. The Pivothead glasses are one-way communication devices and do not fall under the same heading as many of the heads-up display devices that offer two-way communication.

Fashion

One of the biggest challenges with most wearables today is getting people to wear them. This is where fashion becomes important. Making devices that are stylish and fashionable will be key to consumer adoption. The early adopters will accept geeky-looking devices, but the mainstream consumer wants something that looks good or makes them look good first, then functions as advertised. Device vendors would be wise to bring industrial designers into the product development process early.

InfoTrends Opinion

The Wearable Tech Expo was a good venue to get a broad overview of what was happening in the market and what some of the issues and concerns were. Imaging is an important component of wearable devices, like heads-up displays. The discussion and creation of wearable devices will continue. Imagination is the only limitation at this time.

InfoTrends tracks the wearable imaging market as part of its new Imaging Innovators Service. To learn more about the service, contact Matt O’Keefe at matt.okeefe@infotrends.com or call 781-616-2115.

 

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