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Advancements in technology point to success for wearable tech

By Evan Wade / November 19, 2013

There’s getting people’s attention, and then there’s earning their respect. Wearable tech has done a great job generating buzz over the past couple of years, but according to a recent Harris Poll, nearly half of all respondents believed the burgeoning industry is “just a fad.”

Throw in a whopping 30% return rate on the Galaxy Gear smartwatch and growing concerns about Google Glass on fan sites like Cult of Android, and it seems as if poor hardware and skepticism could bring down the new wave of microcomputing before it even gets started.

Don’t worry. That isn’t going to happen. Haters can hate and bloggers can doubt, but the future of wearable tech is sound. With corporate and consumer interest on the rise, processors shrinking and the outright awesome things technology may allow us to do in the very near future (telepathy, anyone?), wearable devices will succeed.

2014: the year of wearables

If you’re a fan of Google Glass, waiting on the folks in Mountain View to release it to the masses can be excruciating. Since announcing their smart shades in 2012, Google has remained pretty tight lipped about release plans for the device. Reviews from the Explorer Program, which put advance units in the hands of a small group of early adopters, makes us want it even more.

Though Google has recently expanded registration, prototype units still cost roughly $1,500 and require sponsorship from an existing member to purchase. While you might have that kind of money lying around, the odds of knowing a pilot member are pretty darn small in most social circles.

Other products, like the brain wave-reading Muse headband, offer similarly vague release dates. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with tech innovations. Companies obviously want to let consumers know about their upcoming products, but they don’t want to release unfinished work. Sure, potential customers may complain about long waits, but it’s nothing compared to the roars that follow the rushed launch of a faulty device.

Fortunately, it appears the Google Glass waiting game will soon be over. Multiple media outlets suggest we’ll be seeing the hardware on shelves as soon as early 2014. If the above-mentioned Harris Poll is correct, a large number of consumers between the ages of 18 and 48 are “at least a little interested” in owning a piece of wearable technology, which could mean big sales once the gadgets start arriving.

Tech media of all sorts, from small time blogs to major outlets, will continue covering every possible angle in the days leading up to launch, but don’t let disparaging remarks get you down. The public is generally dismissive at first, but also curious about how the technology can improve their lives. And even if Google Glass isn’t a resounding success, there will be plenty of companies waiting in the wings to offer a product that makes up for Glass’s shortcomings.  

The technology always improves

Let’s suppose for a second that wearable tech doesn’t make a smartphone-sized splash in the world of smart technology. While online pundits are quick to offer opinions as to why this might happen (a recent Fast Co. update cites four possible dangers, ranging from a lack of use cases to concerns over the “always-on” technology) the end reason would likely boil down to the factors mentioned earlier: poor hardware and a general lack of interest.

Even if poor battery life or faulty design drags down early models, you can rest assured the manufacturers—especially resource-laden ones like Google—will be quick to fix the issues. Public opinion, on the other hand, is a little harder to repair. If the next wave of wearable releases is as disappointing as the Samsung Galaxy Gear, all the marketing dollars in the world won’t be able to renew the public’s excitement for wearables.

If the companies behind wearable tech like Google Glass do respond to issues quickly, lack of interest from consumers will resolve itself. Whether they think it’s a fad or not, people are clearly interested in wearables. That interest will only grow as the reviews, write-ups and opinion pieces on the finished products start rolling in.

As more form factors start hitting the market and developers start creating compelling software for the devices, people will find possible ways to include them in their daily routines, just like they did for tablets and smartphones. Assuming the products work fairly well (and, again, the manufacturers respond quickly to any issues that pop up), everything else is gravy. On top of all that, the second generation of wearable tech will build and improve upon its predecessors, making the technology even smaller and less cumbersome to interact with.

As we’ve covered before, microprocessors are shrinking. Some are even small and safe enough to swallow. As low-price, high-power processors like Intel’s Quark chip start hitting the market, manufacturers will jump to use them. At an approximate cost of $15 to $30 apiece, they could be the perfect way to remove yet another possible barrier to entry in the wearable tech world: cost.

Style: An ever-important factor in technology

Then there’s the style issue. Even in their early stages, it looks like wearables have the potential to be fairly unobtrusive. The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky demonstrated this by documenting his visit to a nearby Starbucks with both his phone and his Google Glass. Shortly after entering, Topolsky was asked to turn the phone’s camera off, but the employee said nothing about the tiny glowing light in his eye. Thanks to the device’s discreet nature, and the employees’ general confusion about what he was wearing, Topolsky got around Starbucks’s strict no-recording policy.

To be fair, Glass was a fairly obscure product compared to smartphones and tablets at the time of Topolsky’s article. People will be more aware of it and similar products by the time they’re released to the public. But as smaller processors come out and manufacturers are given time to tweak their designs, it’s fair to assume the watches and glasses and headbands that make up the world of wearables will become even less obtrusive and more customizable. As designers seamlessly implement these devices into their users’ wardrobes,  you can expect any “nerdy” stigma around wearable tech to vanish.

What wearables mean for developers

Developers will play an unquestionably huge role in finding widespread acceptance for Glass and other wearables. Think back to smartphones. As cool as the first-gen iPhone was at the time—even with a lack of external apps—it’s hard to imagine using a smart device without any kind of third-party software.

The good news? Most wearables are, thus far, taking a dev-friendly approach. Google has already released an SDK for Glass. Others, like the Muse headband, plan to put one out in the very near future. Either way, developers are drooling at the prospect of a whole new revenue stream. With the ill-defined 2014 release dates right around the corner, it’s a good idea to start brushing up on the available wearable app tools. The competition most certainly is.

The future of smart computing

Make no mistake about it, wearables will revolutionize the way we interact with computers. The companies who created the industry have too much invested in them to fail. It may take a few generations or a couple of hardware revisions, but people will wear their smart devices the way they carry them in their pockets now, and it’ll happen in the very near future. Whatever evidence detractors may have to the contrary, history says we’re ready for another tech revolution—and wearable tech will serve that purpose with gusto.