If the Internet of Things is comprised of smart, connected objects, then wearable technology is certainly a visible and exciting category that enables people to understand the promise of the IoT. At the intersection of analytics and wearable technology is the quantified-self, the result of the output of data derived from sensors you wear that measure what you do.
Go do some internet research and you’ll see that for as many positive articles you can find about the benefits of using a device to track your steps, calories, sleep patterns, weight loss, or whatever, you will also find as many decrying the decline of quantified self and its related gadgetry. The reason? The humans using the technology simply burn out. After quantifying oneself for several months, the shine wears off and the black rubberized wearable bracelet around your wrist is no longer compelling.
How about smart watches? These are the clunky watch-looking devices that communicate with the phone in your pocket to tell you someone sent you a text of retweeted your 100 characters of banality, saving you several seconds of reaching into your pocket. Some of them have apps! (“It’s a fitness tracker AND a watch!”)
Almost the entire wearable category is getting it completely wrong. They are solutions in search of problems.
Wristwatches have been around for a long time, and the underlying technology has changed very little. A mechanical watch could conceivably last forever, and is impervious to technological obsolecense because what it does is secondary to how it looks. It exists to be beautiful. It is a piece of jewelry that matches your outfit. It is a piece of jewelry to show your great taste, or your buying power. It is a piece of jewelry that needn’t even tell the correct time because 67% of people don’t look at their watch to tell what time it is anyway. It enhances your appearance to other people. Watches face outward on your wrist such that other people see them more frequently than the wearer does. Clothing is the same thing. Have you ever intentionally bought an ugly piece of clothing that was nonetheless functional?
And there are brands. Brands communicate to the world your attitudes. They are peacock feathers for humans. They create affinity with consumers for what they are on the outside, not what they are inside. You know Nike shoes are made in sweatshops in some 3rd-world country for two bucks, yet you pay more for them because of the brand.
Yet when technologists look at the “wearable” category and aim to disrupt it with technology, what we get are wearable things that are all about what’s inside – the functionality – rather than what’s outside. And so you end up with “quantified self” and “fitness trackers” and other gadgetry that self-congratulatorily does something that wasn’t possible before because of technology. And they are ugly as hell. A black rubberized fitness band (“now also in bright orange!”) doesn’t go well with my Hugo Boss suit and Hermes tie. But if I take it off for the evening, then I am harming my game of track-my-steps. After a short time, I throw it in the trash along with my yellow rubber CheatToWin bracelet that also didn’t match my awesome suit. My Rolex? I’ll keep that forever.
There is nothing wrong with applying IoT analytics to wearable technology to enable people to look inward, but the really big opportunity hasn’t been tapped yet, and that is reversing the flow. Why not use IoT analytics and wearables to face outward? These are smart, connected things. So make them really smart and really connected. Instead of quantifying steps taken and showing that data to a user, how about quantifying steps taken in context of location and in relation to other wearers of smart devices and then doing something about it? In that sense, you can give me a constantly updated proximity to things around me I care about.
- When two people wearing a Swatch Smart Watch (which, to my knowledge, is a completely fictional product that I just made up) are close to each other, they can interact in the smallest possible way that nonetheless reinforces the brand’s uniqueness.
- When I put on my UnderArmor personal tech, and I am wearing UnderArmour clothing, the clothing itself can react to, and be controlled by my other wearable technology. When it is dark out, the LEDs in the fabric can light up when I go jogging. The closer I get to my stated goal or destination, the more my wearable technology can react, changing color.
- When I am in the gym, my fitness progress can combine with others’ via their wearable technology to display progress leaderboard stats on the screens, motivating us toward our goals.
- When I walk into the club like what up I got a smart clock... I mean, with my Michael Kors smartwatch on, the sound system plays my song. From my watch I can send other people in the club messages.
- When I go the sporting event with my official-licensed NFL smartwear, others around me with the same technology on see their clothing react to mine, creating an affinity that mutually enhances our outward appearance to each other. My hat can stream commentary about the game. From my device I can post pics to the jumbotron.
In short, if you really want the wearable technology segment to take off, stop measuring the quantity of peoples’ actions and start enhancing the quality of the world around them. Start enhancing the value of clothing and jewelry to make it more attractive because of how it reacts with the environment around it.
And you know what will be quietly sitting in the background of all of these technological interactions, making all of these enhanced experiences possible and continuously integrating experiential feedback into the products that people are wearing to the great benefit of consumers and the companies that sell them the products they love? IoT analytics. A machine brain with beautiful algorithms that learn will help transform wearable technology into a constantly-evolving category of enhanced functionality and beauty reacting to consumers and the world in ways that were never possible before we humans had the bright idea to make them smart and connected.