Wearables… novelties at best

Posted by Brian Hurley on May 28, 2014 in Blog

There are a lot of wearables coming on the market or already available.  They include the Google Glass, fitness devices (e.g. pedometer, pulse measurement, time spent “moving”), smart watches (e.g. music controller, pulse measurement, notifications display, email display), personal improvement/lifestyle (e.g. posture monitoring, life recording), etc.

At Purple Forge we always purchase and work with all the new devices that come out in order to develop an opinion – based on hands-on usage by multiple members of our team and their family members – on how wearables may relate to smartphone apps, the needs of our customers and future industry trends.

Our opinions so far:

  • Fitness devices are at best a niche and have no compelling or lasting value, e.g. Fitbit, Pulse, UP, FUEL.  Individuals that are not active may use it for a short period of time to help them guage their true activity level and that they are achieving it but then discard the device as being too intrusive and stigmatic.  Those individuals that are already very active had little use for the fitness devices and felt that some of the metrics given by the devices were suspect.
  • Google Glass as it currently exists is not going to be “big” – it has too many short-comings and issues.  On the short-coming side it is uncomfortable to wear, has a short battery life, clumbsy interaction, problematic voice control, is socially suspect and stigmatic.  Google Glass is also potentially dangerous for the user due to it blocking peripheral vision and causing the user to be distracted in general.  Significantly Google Glass was not usable for those team members with glasses or who needed glasses.  From a health perspective it caused headaches for more then half the people who used it on the team… reminisent of the old Nintendo Virtual Boy.  Added to all of the fundamental issues, Google Glass is not addressing any compelling problem or need.  Our feeling is that Google Glass may have use in niche applications supporting professionals who need to refer to documentation in a hands-free context, or who need to record video of what they are seeing for archival purposes – professionals such as mechanical system maintenance, public safety and healthcare – but in our opinion, Google Glass is not for the general public. 
  • Smart watches (e.g. Pebble, Samsung Gear, Sony, …) currently don’t add any compelling capabilities or value as standalone devices or as devices linked to smartphones.  Every single smartwatch has ended up back in the box and filed away in the “cabinet of useless technology” after a few days of disappointed usage.   
  • Personal improvement/lifestyle devices made us think “what were they thinking!” , e.g. Lumo, Narrative.  Ignoring the discomfort and stigma of actually wearing devices like this all day… we honestly couldn’t believe anyone would want to use devices like this… none of us went beyond trying it on.  These devices also ended up the “cabinet of useless technology”…  on the same day they arrived.  

They are all interesting from the context of general curiousities – but we don’t see any of the wearables as going mainstream anytime soon.  There is simply no compelling use case.

Where do we think wearables might have value?   Our current opinions are:

  • Identity and personalization management based on proximity to house, car, computer, television, etc.  
  • Tracking, activity monitoring of children and seniors for safety purposes
  • Cronic healthcare condition monitoring and alerting
  • Worker safety, e.g. monitoring environmental status, location, and generating alerts in dangerous areas/conditions