Whew, what a decade. Well, decade and then some.
Ever since the iPod came out in 2001, it’s been one non-stop rush of revolutionary new gizmos, from smartphones and e-readers to GPS devices and tablets. It’s no wonder then that many people in the technology industry, and plenty in the tech press, expect or even want this cavalcade to continue, which is probably the main explanation for why there has been so much hype over so-called wearable computers or gadgets. Going into 2013, there was an awful lot of anticipation for Google Glass, the search company’s camera-equipped eyeglasses, and smartwatches from the likes of Samsung.
As the year draws to a close, however, it’s almost funny how badly those particular two items flopped. Despite not even being a commercially available product, Google Glass has been pre-emptively banned all over the place for its safety and privacy issues (never mind its nerdiness), while Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smart-watch may very well have been the most poorly received gadget of the year. Even the commercial for it was mind-numbingly bad.
Heading into 2014, there are a few reasons why such big flops are likely to continue.
The biggest of them is a simple question that designers of wearable tech seem to have forgotten: does the item in question solve a need or make life easier for its user? In both the Google and Samsung cases, the answer was an emphatic “no.” There is literally nothing that either device can do that can’t already be accomplished on a smartphone, which is doubtlessly something that is already possessed by anyone who would consider buying them.
Wearables thus have two big minuses working against them: they run the risk of being redundant devices and they cost extra. What they offer in exchange is minor – is looking at your wrist to see incoming text messages, rather than at your phone, really worth several hundred dollars?
The need to charge yet another device is also enough to put off a good number of buyers. Regular wristwatches don’t need to be charged, after all. Certain kinds of wearables thus face some physical limitations, in that the technology – especially when it comes to battery life – simply isn’t there yet.
A few existing wearables, particularly in the fitness space, have succeeded because they’ve managed to overcome those significant obstacles: gadgets such as the Fitbit or Nike Fuelband do specific tasks better than smartphones, and they’re relatively inexpensive. But these are niche items and not exactly emblematic of this supposed hyped revolution.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of wearables is simplicity. There may very well come a day when people are decked out from head to toe in technology, but it’s not going to happen until it’s completely invisible and in fact undetectable as technology. Google Glass and the Galaxy Gear showed that the world is still a long way away from that, which means the wearable flops are likely to continue in 2014.