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Wearables, or Unbearables?

Jon Eggins

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I’ll be blunt: the hype surrounding wearables as a mainstream commodity item is overstated, even in the context of IoT. I confess that I do own a watch, a gift from my wife, but I also confess that it languishes somewhere in the “third draw down”, along with other items that are out of sight and out of mind, but not necessarily in that order.

Indeed, back in the day, everyone who could afford one wore a watch. When I was going through school, calculator watches were the representation of the pinnacle of electronic accessorising. And possibly handy in the classroom, too.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and the hard data nowadays shows an obvious decline in the traditional wristwatch market; one that set in at around 2005. This doesn’t correlate with the surge in uptake of smart phones, but it does correlate with de-bulking of the “classic” generation of “dumb-phones” and general thrust toward affordable miniaturisation of consumer electronics.

And for myself, that was the point at which my wristwatch was jettisoned. My mobile phone was now omnipresent in my hip pocket, keeping time and life rhythms.

It turned out that my wristwatch was just baggage.

Here is where I cut to the chase: aside from comfortable clothing, most people hate wearing stuff on their arms, wrists, and other body parts, without some mandatory utility. It’s un-natural. Just ask any cat! There must be a good reason to over-power this pragmatism, and those that do, broadly speaking, either value fashion over discomfort (ever tried on a pair of high heels?) or have a fundamental functional need for a wearable device (for example, aged care or patient monitoring).

Wearables are a niche, and only the truly dedicated, security bound, or medically duressed will subscribe to their functions and fit, long term. Apple know this. The price point of Apple’s iWatch has been chosen with this directly in mind. Starting at $500, but escalating all the way toward $20,000.

It is true to say that Fitbits have been popular, but are the anything more than a fad for most owners? My assertion is that it is mostly “fad”. Segue now to gym memberships - you know, those things that people buy as guilt-easing “carb offsets”. It has been estimated that 80% of Americans with gym memberships do not attend the gym. Why would Fitbits be any different?

And, with slowing population growth, and thus a finite number of human wrists, necks, ankles etc, and the general trend in bodily divestment of “things” hanging off one’s limbs, the commodity wearables market is indeed one that must suffer a greatly compressed growth. So I am personally not seeing wearables as a facilitator for IoT or M2M growth outside of the B2B sector.

There is undoubtedly a great B2B niche for wearables in aged care, and disabled care, if wearables are functional and technically integrated to become more than just “another sensor”, and add genuine value to the carers workload and economies of scale. Ditto that for animals of the four-legged variety, in the context of their “carers”, a.k.a “farmers”.

We, as an industry need to “get over” commodity wearables, and wearables as an enabler to IoT nirvana. Like a gym membership that never gets used, they are distracting us from the more fundamental (and lucrative) challenges of IoT and IoT platform development.

Thanks for reading.

Jonathan Eggins - COO - Genesys Electronics Design

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"most people hate wearing stuff on their arms, wrists, and other body parts, without some mandatory utility".  I think if you do a little anthropological study you will see that man has always had a fascination with wearing things on (or through) their body. Jewellery, earrings, piercings, bracelets, crowns or head-dresses, neck ruffs, broaches have all been used to help establish a person's identity in a group rather than serve some functional purpose. 

So I would place the Apple watch more in a social than functional space.  The person that buys the $20,000 gold Apple Watch says something to the owner that is probably far different than what we mere plebs may think of them.  Unfortunately, most of these devices are unsuitable as real health sensors - they are more just an alert that medical clinicians will use to initiate 'real' diagnostic monitoring and measurement.

I agree with you that we need to ensure wearable IoT is more functional than fashionable but people's behaviour demonstrates it is likely the other way round.  Perhaps we need to focus more on the M2M interactions?

Edited by Jimbo

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"Perhaps we need to focus more on the M2M interactions?"

Jimbo, I definitely agree. I will be posting a few more blog articles in the near future that discuss this, but it seems that the current view of IoT is not so much "Internet of Things" but "Internet of Sensors" or "Internet of Big Data".

I have no doubt that there is value in gathering sensed data and doing analytics - a-la the Australian Bureau of Statistics and census. But what does this achieve other than developing medium and long term knowledge, or allowing a corporate to do a better "sell job" on you? It seems like many involved parties who should know better thing that IoT is a matter of putting sensors on everything, establishing communications for data gathering, and then mining the data.

The IoT needs to contain actions - ie have actuation allowed for. (This is a big "pet" interest of mine.) And these actions are the 50% of the value of IoT in many, many productivity related applications. And productivity = value to end users and $$$ to service providers and product sellers. 

Yep - M2M :-).

 

 

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