Smart, multifunctional wearable devices are a relatively nascent innovation. Starting out in the world of fitness to monitor basic health levels and use GPS tracking for morning runs, they’ve branched out into business and everyday use, like directly communicating with employees and checking calendar events.
Consumers seem to be excited about the idea and have been buying smartwatches, but are not incentivized to keep them. A survey of 6,223 adults showed that over 50% of users who own a smartwatch from either Jawbone, Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband or Misfit Wearables said they no longer use their activity tracker and over ⅓ stopped using it within the first 6 months. In 2013, Samsung wearables had a return rate of 30% for their Galaxy Gear watch.
Why have smartwatches failed to gain traction? Subpar battery life, sluggish performance, and an unappealing Inspector Gadget aesthetic contribute to the flop. Some would also argue that smartwatches demand a steep price tag for what they offer. Most smartwatches need a separate smartphone to be fully functional, which means that customers need to pay a similar, expensive price for a device that performs fewer and slower operations on a smaller screen.
In debuts of anything, however, bumps are inevitable. Advocates say that the Apple Watch is reminiscent of the first iPhone in that most of us were not able to fathom the potential capabilities of smartphones or the impact they would carry. Sales of the Apple Watch in its first year exceeded those of the iPhone in its debut year, and is projected to grow 22% between 2016 and 2020.
In fact, wearables may be more embedded in our everyday lives in the future than most of us may be able to imagine. Payments at the grocery store will be made with a rolling up of a sleeve, revealing a radio-frequency ID chip underneath your skin that contains your credit card information. Front doors will be able to open automatically by sensing your heart rate from your wristband. Let’s throw in your hypothetical diabetes; you’ll open an app on your phone that’s connected to your contact lenses and voila, you’ll be updated on your glucose levels.
Where are wearables likely to succeed? Wearable devices will be densely distributed in countries like the USA and Canada who have been leading developers in the industry. Wearables held the most shares in Asia (34.2%), North America (29.7%), and Western Europe (17.9%) as of 2015, out of approximately 100 million devices distributed worldwide. The USA, Canada, Switzerland, China, and France will be the countries leading the way into wearable technology innovation, each with their unique ways of applying the technology.
Millennials, who are the most involved with the movement of technology, will most likely make up the largest age demographic. Currently in the US, wearables are most popular among adults between the ages of 25 and 44, and Emarketer reports that by 2018, 49.9% of 25- to 34-year old internet users and 47.0% of those between 35 and 44 will be using a wearable device.
With a future of wearables upon us, the issue of privacy, the recurring issue in the tech world, should be addressed; with the benefits of convenience and intense personal information tracking come the cost of losing privacy. Health insurance companies and other data-collecting industries will want to breach on health information to control insurance rates. Personal information like credit card numbers and social security numbers will inevitably be easier to steal. The vulnerability of the personal information on our wearables will depend on manufacturers implementing appropriate security patches, rather than rushing to be the first on the market.
As we move forward, we will need to muse over whether the benefits of convenient tracking outweigh the risks in order for us to confidently step into a future of wearables.