“Getting people to want to wear things all the time — whether it’s on or off” is a huge stumbling block, said Becky Stern, director of Wearable Electronics atAdafruit. Sure, smartwatches and activity trackers are becoming increasingly more visible in the tech space, but mainstream adoption is still key for the long-term success of the diminutive gadgets. Here at Expand NY, a trio of wearable-tech experts from across the spectrum of devices discussed the tech and the roadblocks to widespread use from consumers. Currently, there’s still a challenge with getting the public to want to wear anything, let alone a smartwatch or activity tracker.
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Consider the LED watches of the ’70s. They had a substantial novelty and cool factor. Some even had stopwatches and alarms which were features that only very pricey mechanical watches of that era had.
But those watches also sucked in many ways that prevented truely wide scale adoption. (Ignore for now that LCDs came later). TLED watch displays were tiny and required a button press to activate. Many were big and clunky. And worst of all, the watches ate batteries at an unacceptable rate. Maybe you’d get a month out of a fresh set or maybe two months. In any case it was a pain to change batteries when needed.
That is about where wearables are now: Generally clunky. Many are not rugged. Some require interfacing with other systems but there is no common API or connection standard. Consider that most cell phones – with the exception of Apple’s – are just now standardized for charging via 5V, micro USB connectors. And battery life: How long can something like a smart watch go between charges? Do you need yet another special charger or will users have to go through the frequent hassle of plugging in the device? Will the interface software only work on Windows and MacOS? Android and iOS devices? Linux? Is the system easy to remove? Will it survive water, dust and grime? If it’s built into a garment do you have to be especially careful about washing the fabric? If you have to remove the device before cleaning the garment is it easy to reattach the parts afterwards?
Here is the competition: I wear a watch. It’s got a chronograph and alarm. It’s waterproof and stylish. The battery lasts at least 2 years. It’s more convenient than a smart phone because it’s always on my wrist and the chronograph function is immediately available. There are no menus or lock codes. The interface is simple and I need’t worry about interfaces with other devices and obsolescence or compatible operating systems. At the end of the day, I just take it off.
I love electronics gadgets. Yet over the years I’ve come to appreciate that I’ve only so many hours in a day to babysit and maintain these gadgets. So now, to induce me into carrying and charging and interfacing yet another thing, the functionality and implementation had better be something I really need and strongly desire.
On one end of the spectrum you’ve got wristwatches: Convenient and easy to use. On the other end you’ve got essential devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps: Highly engineered devices that require surgery or frequent monitoring but which keep you alive. Wearable have to hit the right balance of value and cost. I’m hopeful but I haven’t seen a lot that is compelling yet. Perhaps with another order of magnitude of power reduction or battery capacity we’ll be close…