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GLAZEDcon 2014: where wearables take center stage

By Mark Killian / June 6, 2014


GLAZEDcon 2014: where wearables take center stage

GLAZEDcon 2014 may sound like the world’s largest donut convention, but I’m afraid the only tasty treats at this seminar were the wearables and IoT devices that promise to shape our future. Or, as the website puts it:

“The GLAZED Conference, created by Wearable World, combines the future of innovation, growth and entrepreneurship to accelerate the Wearable and Internet of Wearable Things ecosystem forward. It is a curated environment that brings together technology pioneers, founders, executives, influencers and investors. Our speakers, moderators and attendees are passionate about identifying the entry points of this new market and jumping ahead of the game to be the dominant players in this new space.“

While most of the blogosphere has been obsessing over Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the fine folks at Wearable World decided to “think different” by throwing GLAZEDcon in the same city and on the same week as WWDC 2014. For two days (June 3rd and June 4th), GLAZEDcon brought startups, venture capitalists, fitness gurus, tech enthusiasts and media specialists together to figure out where wearables and connected technology are heading and how they can get it there faster.

Products were revealed. Funding was won. Myths were debunked. And by the time the attendees exited the building, everyone agreed that this is only the beginning of the next tech frontier.

Where have wearables been?

To be frank, not very far. The market has previously been dominated by a slew of fitness trackers that differentiate themselves with product design and the UI of their corresponding apps and websites. As far as the actual function is concerned, there’s very little to distinguish a Fitbit Flex from a Jawbone Up. And although these devices have cornered the market, most early adopters who have experimented with them are left wanting more. But why has physical fitness become the go-to industry for wearables?

Whether you realize it or not, wearables have been around as long as the Sony Walkman. According to Noel Lee, founder of Monster and former business partner of Dr. Dre, headphones are the original wearable device. If you think about it, Lee is right. They were the first piece of hardware that connected human beings to computing technology for the sake of convenience, and they’re only getting better.

From sound quality to functionality, headphones are one of the most innovative categories in the wearables market. Take the Dash wireless smart earbuds, for example. This Kickstarter-funded product promises to not only provide cordless audio support, but also track your steps, pulse and oxygen saturation levels. Sound promising? The Internet certainly seemed to think so. After setting the bar at $260,000, nearly 16,000 backers helped Dash reach $3,390,551 in funding. This illustrates two very important points about the current state of the wearables market: 1) the public wants more devices and 2) they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Where are they now?

It’s been estimated that over 90 million wearable devices will be shipped by the end of 2014, many of which will continue to perpetuate the fitness-tracking fad. As digital Darwinism forces some of these competitors out of the running, there will be more room for new wearable innovations.

The next booming segment of the health-wearable market appears to be a vitally important, but often overlooked aspect of your physical wellbeing; your posture. Leading this charge is LUMO BodyTech, creators of the LUMOback posture coach. This discrete device wraps around your waist to make sure you’re sitting upright, but that’s not the only bright idea to come out of LUMO. They, like many others, took to Kickstarter for funding.

Crowdfunding is currently one of the most significant components of the wearables revolution. In a session entitled The Future of Connected Device Crowdfunding, lead by Wareness.io CEO Vijay Chattha, Chattha and a panel of esteemed professionals (Sonny Vu of Misfit Wearables, Kate Drane of Indiegogo, Andrew Dix of Crowfund Insider) discussed the prevelance of crowdfunding in today’s market.

The main takeaway from the talk was the importance of planning. Many companies throw their product up on the Internet with a “fake it till you make it” mentality, never truly anticipating what comes from a rush of support, but it’s all fun and games until you have to fulfill your orders. According to a study by The Wharton School of Business, 75% of all Kickstarter gadgets miss their ship date, some by a wide margin.

Hell hath no fury like an early adopter scorned. If you make a promise to the public you can’t keep, you better believe it’s going to pop up on message boards and social media outlets all over the Web. Chattha and his crew caution anyone planning on getting into the crowdfunding game to make sure they set realistic fulfillment goals. First, figure out how much your product is going to cost. Next, set a first-run quantity you feel comfortable with. And finally, estimate how long it will take you to ship your inventory, IF you’re lucky enough to hit your fundraising target. It sounds simple, but as the Wharton study illustrates, many startups overlook it.

Where are they going?

The key to the future of wearables is diversification. If your entry into the market is a fitness-tracking wristband, you might as well deposit your next investor check directly into your shredder. Your money may actually last a little longer that way.

One market ripe for diversification is the enterprise sector. Phil Easter (American Airlines) would like to leverage existing and next-generation wearable tech to increase workforce efficiencies and “[enable] good employees to be GREAT.”

Phil would like to live in a world where all of American Airlines’ flight and desk attendants are equipped with some kind of hardware with language translation capabilities, allowing them to ease the tension of a passenger from another country or continent. The looming question is, will employees want to wear it? On the one hand, it provides them with a valuable benefit. On the other, it gives their employer another opportunity to monitor their every move.

Another exciting opportunity to differentiate your wearable devices is through IoT integration. The more “things” a wristband or intelligent glasses can interact with, the more beneficial it will be to your end user. That is the single-most important question wearables manufacturers need to ask themselves; What is this doing to make my user’s life better? It seems like common sense, but there is a surprising amount of entries into the market that appear to skip that step. Case in point, the Necomimi cat ears.

Necomimi-Brainwave-Cat-Ears-close-up

The perfect gift for that friend who has everything (but dignity).

The good news is, there are plenty of entrepreneurs who realize the need for diversity in the wearable technology space. From pants that double as a portable drum to a smart HUD motorcycle helmet, the future of wearables is bright and specialized. Below are some of the most promising entries we discovered at GLAZEDcon:

  • Drumpants – Unlike GLAZEDcon, the name accurately describes the product. It’s a pair of pants that creates different drum sounds depending on which part of your leg you tap. You can also use them to perform simple controls on a connected device.
  • Muse Headband – If you’ve never been told to “get your mind under control,” kudos to you. But for the rest of us, the Muse headband will help you keep a level head by showing you how your brain responds to different external stimuli.
  • Nymi – Identity security has never been more important, and this wristband aims to keep your most valuable information safe by making your unique heart rhythm your new password. Just try not to have a heart attack.
  • Nod – It’s finally here! The Minority Report control system we’ve all been waiting for. And it comes in a tiny black ring you simply slip on your finger anytime you want to gesture control your TV, computer or other connected device.
  • OMsignal – Although fitness bands may be played out, the potential of smart workout clothes has yet to be determined. OMsignal hopes convince exercise enthusiasts they need a $300 shirt that can measure their biometrics.
  • Empath Analytics – Not all wearables startups are offering a physical product. Some just want to help you make sense of all the data you’re amassing. That’s where Empath Analytics comes in.
  • Skully Helmets – You know that smart HUD motorcycle helmet I just mentioned? This is it. The Skully helmet is basically like Google Glass with WAY more protection. It’s the closest you’ll come to feeling like Iron Man.

What GLAZEDcon lacked in sugar-coated confections, they more than made up for with drool-worthy wearable content and product demos. And hey, at least they had the foresight to host the festivities less than four blocks away from San Francisco’s highest-rated donut shop (according to Yelp). Just put on your Google Glass, say, “Take me to Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop,” and let your device lead you to a Giant Crumb the size of a steering wheel. You’ll definitely see why hands-free technology is here to stay.

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