Back in the old days, fashionistas accessorized their outfits with stylish scarves, jewels, and handbags. Today, however, technology has become so ingrained in our lives that items such as smartwatches and exercise trackers are being worn by even the most fashion-forward celebrities. In an incredibly short amount time, wearable tech has risen in popularity thanks to its versatility, usability, and attractiveness. With sales predicted to grow 18.4 percent in 2016, it won’t be long before we’re all lacing up smart sneakers and wearing brain-boosting smart hats.
The Challenges of IoT Wearables
Although the growth of wearable technology is exciting, it’s essential that emerging devices continue to be useful, discreet, comfortable, and durable. Here are the three biggest roadblocks that could prevent wearables from becoming a wardrobe standard:
1. Clunky integration: If wearable IoT technology is to continue its meteoric rise, it must move past its novelty phase, seamlessly integrate into users’ lives, and provide real value. If a wearable requires too much deviation from a traditional daily routine, the device will find its way into a junk drawer in no time. Project Jacquard is tackling this dilemma head on by turning everyday items such as clothes and furniture into interactive surfaces. Users won’t have to think twice about whether they’ll their wearable device if it’s already ingrained into the fabric of their lives.
2. A lack of ubiquity: Because most consumers change their outfits daily, finding a way to consistently integrate wearable technology into clothing is vital. If users can only afford a single connected sweater, it will likely be nothing more than a novelty item that’s only worn as a party trick. To avoid this, companies should think along the lines of creating transferable options, such as an IoT-connected breast pocket that can be attached to any and all shirts a user might choose to wear.
3. Durability and planned obsolescence: Wearable tech — especially when it comes to clothing — has a huge durability concern to overcome: the washing machine. Sending IoT-connected clothes through the laundry could either lower the lifespan of the device or destroy it completely. Additionally, because many wearables require a smartphone to be fully operational, the battery life (and overall lifespan) of mobile devices also comes into play here. A chronically dead battery or out-of-commission phone can quickly cause a wearable to lose its value and fall into irrelevance.
Looking Ahead to Tomorrow
The future of wearable tech will depend upon durable, functional devices that communicate valuable feedback to users regarding the topics they care about most. Keep an eye on these trends in the next few years:
- Productivity maximization: Someday soon, we’ll hopefully be able to complete tasks and interact with the world around us without using a phone or going through a lock screen. Information will be immediately available and actionable. Contrary to traditional thought, putting computers on our bodies will actually decrease our amount of screen time by providing easy, on-demand access to our tech tools.
- Further emphasis on health and wellness: Currently, health trackers require a wristwatch-like device and a smartphone to be useful. However, in the future, we may see fabric bands or sensors woven directly into the fabric of our clothing. These simple, unassuming devices will gather the user’s pulse, hydration level, oxygen level, and body temperature in real time and quickly inform the wearer of any problems or abnormalities. Professional and amateur athletes also stand to benefit greatly from the future of wearable tech. For example, Samsung recently released a tech sneaker that creates pressure maps that allow coaches and trainers to analyze and correct movement patterns in athletes, and devices such as the Unequal Halo will help limit the number of concussions in sports.
- Increased public safety for all: In the future, we’ll see tech begin to tackle the problems our local heroes face. With improvements in field communication, first responders and firefighters will have the ability to quickly and effectively react to crises. Many predict that wearable cameras and smart glasses will emerge to provide better documentation and resources for action in emergency situations.
Also, expect to see a boost in personal safety wearables — such as Athena, a device that sounds an alarm and sends location data to users’ family and friends if activated during a dangerous situation.
As wearable tech ventures beyond simple health applications and enters the realm of life-or-death situations, device manufacturers must rigorously test their devices and boost their data security efforts to comply with consumer privacy laws. If the technology has the potential to improve people’s lives, users will happily adopt it. However, manufacturers absolutely need to ensure that their services actually work and their customers are protected.
Is Wearable Tech Getting Under Our Skin?
Looking even further into the future, perhaps we’ll someday see wearable tech evolve into a tiny digital device that’s constantly a part of us. An implanted chip, backed by ethical and moral standards, could replace identification methods such as fingerprinting and create a safer, more integrated and accurate society. For those who choose to opt in, the possibilities are seemingly endless. While some people might still be too nervous to link their bodies to a computer, many more are seeing the benefits of wearable IoT technology. Continued security and smart manufacturers are key as the future of wearable tech moves closer and closer.
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