Journalist Damian Radcliffe takes a look at CES 2015 and analyzes what's next on the wearables horizon.
Wearable Tech has been tipped as “the next big thing” for some time. To date, however, the market has failed to live up to expectations.
At the end of 2013, there were just 22 million connected wearable devices in use across the globe, according to the global IT firm Cisco. Many of these will have been fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up24 or the Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Charge HR, with consumers seemingly underwhelmed by offers such as LG’s G Watch R, Google Glass, and the Samsung Gear range.
It will be interesting therefore to see if the forthcoming launch of the Apple Watch will provide the anticipated tipping point this sector is still waiting for. In the meantime, here’s a quick round-up of the latest developments in this space.
A stylish evolution
One thing’s for sure. Even though Google has just announced it is winding down Glass, many tech companies are still betting big on wearables.
The recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas featured plenty of them, from good-looking smartwatches like the SONY Smartwatch 3, through to the Swarovski Shine – a crystal encrusted device which bring a whole new level of bling to the world of activity trackers.
The wrist is so 2014
CES 2015 showed that manufacturers are increasingly beginning to move beyond the wrist in their ideas for wearable tech.
Of particular note were several feet focussed wearables, from Sensoria’s smart sock which tracks your running technique in real time (they also sell smart sports bras and smart fitness t-shirts which feature embedded heart rate monitors), through to Digitsole’s connected, heated insole that can be controlled via your smartphone.
The Digitsole—like a number of existing tools—also tracks how many steps you take during the day, and how many calories you’ve subsequently burned, although of course it’s their underfoot heating system that got everyone talking.
Hot off the heels of Mimobaby last year’s smart baby onesie, CES also revealed a whole range of baby orientated digital health products. This looks like it may be a market to watch.
New products revealed this month included TempTraq, an underarm stick-on patch which allows you to monitor if your baby has a fever via your smartphone or tablet, and the Baby Glgl, which uses inclinometer to help parents ensure that a bottle feed is being given at the correct angle. If it’s not, then the arrows light up showing parents what adjustments they need to make.
Inevitably, of course, CES also showcased a number of innovations where arguably the “analogue” versions still work just fine. As ever, some manufacturers can be accused of trying to magic up new markets—and tapping into the anxieties of parents can be a potentially lucrative arena.
mamaRoo, an electric baby rocker for parents who are too busy to rock their own child, fell into this category for me. As did Pacif-i, a pacifier which also sends your baby’s temperature to your smartphone. And do you really need “a proximity feature that alerts your smartphone if the pacifier moves away from you”? At the moment, I’m not convinced.
WORLD’S FIRST BLUETOOTH™ SMART BABY PACIFIER
The weird and the wonderful
Whilst we’re on the subject of potentially unnecessary products, it’s probably worth mentioning Belty, a sensor-equipped smart belt, which automatically adjusts itself over the course of the day.
So, if you’ve eaten too much on Christmas Day, you no longer need to move your belt down a notch. There’s an app for that now.
Similarly, if you find yourself in a post-lunch, pre-caffeine fix slump, then Vigo can give you a “nudge”—be that in the form of a notification LED, a vibration or by playing your favourite song—so that you can “re-focus and get back in the zone.” By tracking your blinks and movement in this way, “Vigo knows you’re drowsy before you do,” they claim.
And if you do need a nap, then the NeuroOn sleeping mask, is designed to promote polyphasic sleep patterns, promoting multiple power naps throughout the day instead of one long sleep at night.
Wearables for Pets
For some, pet wearables might also fall into this category of unnecessary tech. However, whilst still gimmicky, if you love your pet then being able to use digital means to monitor their health will certainly appeal to some.
The most obvious uses we saw at CES were activity trackers. Long the bastion of the wearables industry for adults, you can now harness tools like “FitBark”—through to GPS and camera embedded collars—to keep track of your pooch.
And if, like me, you worry about your pets when you’re on vacation you can use Petcube, a pimped up baby monitor which allows you to view—and talk—to your pets wherever you may be.
It remains to be seen if these broader markets for wearables will take off. But for both consumers and digital health professionals they also pose some interesting questions, particularly in terms of the extent to which we should be making decisions based on the data captured by these applications.
Should we really be using sleep apps—and masks—to recalibrate our body clocks?
Are heated products like the Lenz Smart Heated Socks and their new heat vest 1.0 men and heat vest 1.0 women useful innovations for some demographics such as older people. or those with circulation problems—or will they potentially exacerbate existing conditions?
What happens to the data you’re recording and uploading into the cloud and third party apps?
If this industry does grow, as Cisco predicts, eight-fold—to 177 million active devices by 2018—then this is a space where these questions need to be explored. Here at nuviun we look forward to doing that with you in 2015 and beyond.
Damian Radcliffe is a consultant, journalist and researcher. He blogs at damianradcliffe.com and tweets @damianradcliffe – he doesn’t currently own any wearables. But that may soon change. Especially given how cold his feet are right now.