Wearable Computers: Ready for Action

WearableComputers

Wearable computing has long been seen as a logical step in the integration of information technology with humans and their environment. But the promise of wearable computing has “remained largely unfulfilled despite decades of research driven by everyone from the military to DIYers.”

Now recent developments suggest that wearable computing may finally be gaining traction. For example, the announcement of the Google Glass wearable- computer project in 2012 spurred a great deal of popular interest in the field, with a variety of observers forecasting major product introductions and consumer adoption as soon as 2013 or 2014.

Intel evangelist Manny Vara believes that comfortable and convenient wearable computers may be just two to five years away.

3 KEY FINDINGS

  • After years of prototyping and development, and some successes in specialized environments, wearable computing may be poised for broader adoption.
  • Entertainment, sports, and fitness uses will drive the consumer market; healthcare applications will expand; and military and industrial applications will continue.
  • For wearable computing to reach its potential, issues with appearance, user interface design, and data management must be overcome.

3 DRIVERS

A variety of social forces and technology developments are working together to drive the development of wearable computing.

  • Ubiquitous connectivity. The expansion and upgrade of telecomm networks continues to move consumers closer to an anytime-anywhere access model—for information, games, movies, and communications apps (e.g., Skype, FaceTime). This is driving adoption of post-PC devices, particularly tablets and smartphones.
  • Networking. Short-distance wireless protocols such as Bluetooth enable wearable devices to piggyback on the existing connectivity of the wearer’s smartphone.13 This will help drive adoption by smartphone users.
  • Miniaturization. Size and weight reduction will make wearable computing more practical.14 Intel is considering processor chips on the order of one-quarter to one-half the size and power consumption of the Atom chips that power mobile handsets.

3 PROSPECTS

Both the size of the wearable computing market and the scope of technologies that support wearable computing appear likely to grow in the next two to 10 years. According to Sarah Rotman Epps, blogging about a recent Forrester report on wearable computing, industries “that will be disrupted by wearables [include] apparel, software, media, gaming, and commerce.”

The wearable computing market will grow: A recent report from Juniper Research forecasts that 2014 will be “the watershed year for wearable devices—in terms of rollouts and market traction.” Juniper forecasts the global market for wearable devices will grow from $800 million in 2012 to $1.5 billion by 2014. According to Nitin Bhas of Juniper Research, “While fitness and entertainment will have the greatest demand from consumers, within an enterprise environment, the demand for wearable devices will be greatest from the aviation and warehouse sectors.”

Devices will shift from piggyback toward standalone: In the near term, many wearable devices will link to the user’s smartphone. Forrester Research, in a 2012 report on wearable devices, hypothesizes that support from “the ‘big five’ platforms— Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook—and their developer communities” will be what moves wearables into the consumer mainstream.72 Some of these key players are already working on such “piggyback” devices.

Form factors will multiply: While glasses and watches seem to be the front-running form factors for wearable computing, there is a wide variety of other possibilities. A number of manufacturers offer functional wristbands, e.g., Nike’s FuelBand activity monitor and Disney’s MagicBand, which stores guest information, serves as a pass to hotel rooms and theme parks, and can be used to purchase food and souvenirs. Google was recently awarded a patent for a smart glove. Microsoft is developing a “wearable multitouch projector” that can turn any surface, including your hand, into a touchscreen.