Say Goodbye to Your Smartwatch

Kim BellardJust because Steve Wozniak takes a shot at Apple doesn't mean he's wrong.

Woz recently declared that the current generation of wearables, including the Apple Watch, are "not a compelling purchase."  He says that his Apple Watch is "an expense that has brought me a few extra niceties in my life," but generally is frustrated that wearables don't have enough computing power and are mostly still dependent on a linked smartphone for many of their functions.

He's not alone in his skepticism.  A trio of analysts from Pacific Coast Securities see trouble ahead for many wearable manufacturers, as "value creation shifts away from the thing itself, while the associated ecosystem, software and/or service tend to deliver the real intelligence that the things provide."  In their view, data collection is quickly becoming commoditized; e.g., it's not just enough to track steps, but it is what is done with that information that will be increasingly important.

Last summer Fitbit stock reached a 52 week high of $52; now it is trading around $17.  Looks like someone is worried.

It's not that these analysts are bearish on wearables generally; they just believe that: "consumers appear to prefer a simplified and relatively inconspicuous version of technology that collects information while leaving complex interactions to devices that are better suited for the task,"  I'm not sure Woz would agree.

Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal is also moving away from multi-purpose wearables to ones that have more specialized purposes.  His realization was that:

Unlike smartphones, which are pretty much the same, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all wearable, and there may never be. That is because we are using them to address different wants and desires.

He cites single purpose wearables like Nex Band, which bills itself as "the hackable modular smartband," and Spire, whose forte is helping manage stress by closely monitoring respiration, as examples of wearables that are "solutions to particular problems, rather than objects for which there is already a market."  Rather than a smartwatch that tries to do everything, Mr. Mims foresees lots of different wearables, in different shapes on different parts of our bodies for different purposes.

Wareable profiled the "13 hottest wearable start-ups to look out for," and only 3 of them are based on the "traditional" wristband approach.  We've got smart clothing, jewelry, earbuds, shoes, full body sensors, even smart pills!  Many people think "smart clothing" is the future of wearables, and there certainly are no shortage of companies working on them, but I think that is selling the concept short.

Mr. Mims doesn't even want to call them "wearables," since "wearing" them itself may soon be outdated.  For example, Samsung is trying to patent a smart contact lens that could project images directly into your line of sight, or take photographs.  You control it through eye motions and blinking.  No more making fun of nerds wearing Google Glasses; you won't even know they are wearing these.
Google, of course, is doing their best to keep pace.

Or your next wearable might be an "electronic tattoo."  Your skin could act as the screen, displaying, say, your vital statistics (think of hospital patients) or maybe even cat videos from YouTube.  As one of the lead researchers behind the technology said:

What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease? In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate."

Those displays may be reading information from sensors that you're not wearing, but from ones that are inside you.  Proteus Digital Health is working on not just stick-and-peel biometric patches but also on ingestible sensors, which they believe can offer closer, more accurate monitoring.  These kinds of sensors could render many types of measuring systems obsolete, and the market for them is expected to grow to close to $700 million by 2022.

I'm surprised it isn't more.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers are big believers in the future of wearables.  They say that "battery life is by far the biggest obstacle preventing broad market adoption and retention," claiming that wearables should last "weeks and months" between charges.  In their view, in the future our devices will be:

Tiny in size, little to no energy consumed during operation, constantly processing, continuously mapping our environment and gathering data, and communicating device-to-devices.  In order to make this world a reality, we'll need almost invisible components that can scavenge energy from kinetic movement and from surrounding power sources such as wireless signals.

Just as personal computers shook up our notion of what a computer was, and just as smartphones and tablets shook up our notion of what a personal computer was, wearables stand to revamp our thinking again.  Microsoft is said to be getting ready for a "world without keyboard and mouse," and we're all going to have to get used to a world where computing is so ubiquitous that we aren't even aware of the devices that are doing the computing.

We've gotten our head around Fitbit and Apple Watch, but that's just scratching the surface of what technology already allows, or soon will allow us to do, in bringing computing more into our lives -- and hopefully bringing more value to us.   It will be like jumping from a 1980's IBM PC to an iPad.

It's pretty exciting.

Say Goodbye to Your Smartwatch was authored by Kim Bellard and first published in his blog, From a Different Perspective.... It is reprinted by Open Health News with permission from the author. The original post can be found here.