It wasn’t so long ago that the concept of a phone that you carried around with you would attract derision. “Why would anyone want one of those?” people would snort. And when they were adopted by the business community, they became a yuppie status symbol that everyday folk couldn’t warm to.
But that was before employers started dishing them out to middle management and the economy of scale kicked in. Society’s attitude went from mockery to wholesale acceptance over the course of a year each side of 2000. The mobile phenomenon delivered an aftershock about five years later over smartphones. Only a few visionaries saw the advantages of giving a PDA a mobile signal, but now it’s difficult to find a phone that isn’t smart.
Why is all this relevant to wearable tech? Looking at Apadmi’s Wearable Tech Study on the subject, I’m left wondering whether the first post-smartphone aftershock is imminent or whether wearable tech is going to be mired in a perpetual inertia. Because the overwhelming sense the survey delivers is that the public simply don’t know whether they want it.
Apples And Oranges?
So can wearable tech be compared with the mobile tech story? From a desirability point of view, there are distinct parallels. Well over 30 per cent of respondents said that wearable tech would make them feel embarrassed or self-conscious; makes people look ridiculous; or makes wearers look like show-offs.
Those words could have applied to our yuppie trailblazers of two decades ago. Whether that is a positive message depends on your belief in tech revolutions following a cycle where the tech has to prove its usefulness and robustness to overcome the mockery. “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus” and all that.
Let’s not forget that at that time, mobile telephony really was expensive. Before economies of scale, competitive network/handset pricing and nationwide mast networks existed, phones were a rich city dweller’s toy. And boy, were they visible pieces of kit.
Wearable = Watches
There’s also the fact that most people’s experience of “wearable tech” comes through the filter of mainstream media. As Google’s and Apple’s products are now considered newsworthy enough to fit into regular business and lifestyle slots, their Glass and Watch have come to be synonymous with wearable tech, with the fitness tracking sector figuring heavily in some minds.
But for someone working in smart clothing or healthcare monitoring, glasses and watches might seem “wearable” only by virtue of their arms and straps; they are, after all, simply repackaging of existing technologies. The realm of wearable tech reaches much farther than the popular media’s take would suggest, and it’s up to the industry (and wonderful outlets like WT VOX) to push the message.
Don’t Know ≠ Don’t Want
The overwhelming sense of ignorance from the public on the subject of wearable tech was stronger than the negative connotations. In most subjects, regardless of whether the question came from a fashion, a privacy, a business or another standpoint, “don’t know” trumped the negative and positive responses, usually accounting for between 40 and 50 per cent of respondents.
Ignorance and apathy are not the same thing, so clearly these are not lost causes – but until wearable tech gets an overarching definition in the public consciousness, the industry is leaving the sector to the mainstream media, and they will always gravitate to the comfort of known brands, glitzy launches and queues outside stores.
Fortunately each section of Apadmi’s report concludes with some actionable solutions to raise, ahem, awareness. Widespread adoption of any technology usually needs a shove to push it to critical mass, and the use of appropriate endorsements plus a little more research into industry segments certainly wouldn’t hinder wearable tech.
But maybe WT’s destiny isn’t mass appeal of individual technologies. Once people let tech into their comfort zones, the door is open for boutique developers to satisfy individual needs. The biggest message to come from the survey isn’t that wearable tech is unwanted – it’s that it’s misunderstood.