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Wearable tech is more than just a fad

Published on Nov 11, 2013 at 10:21 am in Tech Trends.

This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.

wearable-technologyWith the early-September release of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the expected 2014 public release of Google Glass and the will-it-ever-happen talk about Apple iWatch, wearable technology has been in the news a lot lately.

Some of the coverage has been less than favorable, with columns pointing out problems such as clunky design, short battery life and limited functionality, which the authors believe need to be addressed before mainstream adoption of wearable technology can become a reality.

In my opinion, these issues are mere hiccups.

Clunky design: Whether you belong to the camp that thinks Google Glass looks nerdy chic or the camp that thinks it looks flat-out ugly, initial designs of wearable tech leave much to be desired. But that won’t keep people from adopting it.

Ten years ago it would have looked ridiculous and ueber-nerdy to see someone staring captivatingly at a 4-inch computer screen while seated at a restaurant. Now it is the norm.

When early adopters begin wearing smartwatches and smartglasses, they’ll become trendy despite their slightly clunky design. Software developers will need to continue to work with designers to adapt the look and functionality of these newer wearable technologies though, lest they fall trap to the ear mullets Bluetooth headsets aesthetic. Those can look ridiculous.

Battery life: The battery in wearable devices such as smartwatches contributes to the “clunky design” problem, but when you make the battery slimmer, you also decrease its life.

This isn’t a new tech problem, nor is it something special to wearable devices. I’m typing this on a laptop and constantly checking its battery meter. My iPhone rarely makes it a full day on a single charge.

Brilliant engineers are working tirelessly on battery technology and wireless charging, and mobile tech — including wearable tech — will benefit immensely from this research.

Limited functionality: The argument that smart devices don’t add much functionality beyond what a smartphone already does misses the point entirely. Wearables will soon replace your smartphone. Or, your smartphone will soon be something you wear, not something you carry. The smartwatches and smartglasses are simply an evolutionary step in this process.

In 1990, if you wanted to learn who won the World Series in 1907 or the scientific name of okra — Chicago Cubs and Abelmoschus esculentus — you would have to physically travel from your house to a library and dig through reference books until you found the facts.

Thanks to widespread adoption of the internet in the mid-1990s, much of this information became available at the push of a button, just as long as you had a computer connected to a phone line in your home or office.

Now, it seems nearly everyone has a smartphone and a world of information is a pocket grab away.

As a consumer, it doesn’t make sense to fight wearable tech. Fitness and wellness technologies such as Nike+ FuelBand and FitBit demonstrate very digestible ways that regular folks are already wearing technology.

In 2000, it would be hard to imagine that in 2013 middle schoolers would have pocket devices that allowed them to wirelessly connect to almost everyone and everything in the world for only a few dollars a day. Who knows what 2026 will bring.

photo credit: The DEMO Conference via photopin cc