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Worn Out Wearables?

May 13th 2016

The reasons are not hard to see.  The original Pulsar watch and those from Casio and the like a decade later, were an ergonomic nightmare.  The buttons were too small, too close together and the screen needed eyesight better than a barn owl.  There has always been the trade off between wearability – and hence small size – and the clumsiness of the human interface.  The Apple smartwatch itself often appears to be little more than a satellite interface to a more usable iPad/iMac.  And where Apple is stalling Google has also failed, with the much hyped Google Glass program being shut down.

Wearables in medtech have been more successful, partly because users are ready to accept more inconvenience for a perceived higher return.  But also because users need less interaction with them so the interface issue is less of a problem.

The best result in wearables is in the fitness space, where the device is primarily focused on collecting data.  Companies like Fitbit and Jawbone have successfully grown large user bases.  According to a recent report by PwC, 1 in 5 adult Americans now wear an activity tracker device.

But how far will this go?  In the UK another survey by Vanson Bourne found that 50% adults thought that smart wearables were only “likely to be fad”.  There is a relationship between functionality and fashion that no one seems to be able to get right.

When Fitbit went public in early 2015, it’s share price was $30.  This rose to just under $50 within 6 months.  But it has then been on decline.  Some of it has to do with on-going legal disputes with Jawbone but also the failure to deliver against expectations.  Fitbit’s share price today is $13.

Yet many analysts are advising a buy on Fitbit.  Why?  It’s because they see that Fit is building a large user base and an ecosystem.  It could be the platform that finally delivers what wearables promise.  Apple, Google and others are making usable voice recognition systems and tying these in with Artificial Intelligence, facial recognition and neural network solutions will provide usable systems that aren’t constrained by the button pressing interface issues of former years.  Apple purchasing Emotient is no coincidence.

After all, wearables should be about the whole body language and it seems that that’s finally now being recognised.

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