Commentary

Trying Wearables On For Size

Ever since Mary Meeker made a big deal out of the prospects for wearable, post-smartphone computing at her most recent annual data and insight dump, people have been taking the idea more seriously. The smartwatch fad may be a nice distraction for the gadget geeks (who always wore really fugly watches anyway), but the future is likely to look more fashionable and subtle than that.

In all of the hair-pulling this week over the seeming high price of Apple’s “budget” iPhone 5C and how it was going to blow its chances of winning China, most people overlooked the real potential game changer in the iPhone 5S announcement. “Motion” appears to be Apple’s stealth feature in this new phone that could pay off big.

The market in wearable computing is about to explode, Juniper reported yesterday. Smart wireless accessory shipments could approach 170 million by 2018, which mimics the velocity of the early smartphone days. They estimate shipments of these devices in 2013 will be 18 million. These devices will be app-enabled and often communicating with the smartphone.

The report explains: “A smart wireless accessory can be understood as a piece of hardware which links to the smartphone, often via a short-range wireless technology such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The accessory will typically have an associated app which will add value to the data received from the hardware device. In addition, data may be uploaded to an online portal where data analysis and presentation may take place.” Juniper is describing a familiar fitness device and smartwatch for now, but they stress that “wearables” are actually a subset of the smart device category.

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We have not even imagined the possibilities for these accessories, the analyst says. Fitness dominates now, but health care use cases will emerge to help propel the market. Things like connected blood pressure monitors and remote baby alarms are examples of how wireless devices will leverage apps and the cloud to deliver new services to the phone. But one of the reasons for their enthusiasm is the payments scenario. “The business case supporting payment smart wireless accessories is both intuitive and credible,” Juniper writes.

Arguably, Apple’s introduction of the M7 chip in the iPhone 5S may either work smarter with ancillary wireless devices or preclude the need for them. The M7 offloads from the core A7 processor the tasks of coordinating and tracking all of the sensors already in the iPhone. This allows for better battery life. But it also allows for app developers to make better use of contextual states. The processor will be in a better position to deduce whether you are driving, walking or running and alter functionality accordingly. The M7 could make the iPhone coordinate more robustly with any other wearable device. Or it could show up in the rumored iWatch.

Personally, I am rooting for keeping more motion functionality on the iPhone itself so I don’t have to wear a watch…ever again. But the sensor revolution is just beginning. It will relate to the Internet of Things as phones interact in multiple ways with objects, likely via Bluetooth LE or WiFi. Motion will be one of the key passive input variables that will help devices gain even more intelligence and become personal assistants.  

2 comments about "Trying Wearables On For Size".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 12, 2013 at 10:44 a.m.

    Does the watch track your pulse to stimuli ? Then is it all kept for posterity into your big data to control what stimuli is sent to you for your response ? Paying for that candy bar on your phone ? Your fat body can't handle that so you get shock on your wrist ?

  2. K phillipps Dane from IBM, September 12, 2013 at 12:02 p.m.

    Like many folks, I curate a couple of online magazines on the Flipboard platform - one of mine is "My Instrumented Life" (http://flip.it/HmBZ9). Wearables are a category of quantification devices, as well as computing devices for other (commercial, entertainment, etc) purposes, and are a major category in the Quantified Self movement. Lots of overlap in quantified self and the evolution of technology... Good article - many are looking forward to the future you describe.

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