At times it seems that with so many firms invested in the success of wearable technology, the segment will not accept failure. 2013 was certainly a year of forced hype in this regard, largely driven by the likes of Apple, Google, Samsung and Nike, with much promised but little delivered. The trick with a wearable, as opposed to a smartphone or an MP3 player, is the greater focus on design and convenience. The whole point is that you don’t put the thing in your pocket, but wear it as part-fashion accessory without looking like a wannabe futurist. It’s fair to say that this type of device has not yet cracked the market.
Google Glass is clunky and impractical, the Pebble series feels incomplete and the array of fitness bands cover only a niche, calorie-obsessed segment. As such, there is great opportunity for an innovative solution to surface, providing a rare occasion when a small start-up can trump the world’s capital-loaded giants. The incentive is certainly there for all developers: a wearable could in principle be adapted to all types of users, from the young to the old, it can be adopted for various consumer markets and, importantly, the wearable market is expected to reach $19 billion in value in four years.
There is certainly no lack of content innovation. The CES consumer electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas offered up wearables that monitor UV intensity, track your shopping preferences and offer dietary suggestions based on food habits. Consumers just need a product that can persuade them its something they need to have on their body all the time, as opposed to just another app on their smartphone. The most certain way of achieving this is fashion. People wear unnecessary items all the time because of cultural fashion norms, whether its ties, cufflinks, necklaces or belts. A similar addition with digital capabilities would at least hold some practical value.
2014 is expected to be the year when technology crosses the wearable divide, shifting from a gadget you carry around to one that becomes part of your wardrobe. At least according to the sheer number of devices on offer at the CES. However, this continues to be a highly fragmented market, with multiple visions on offer drowning out the message to the consumer. The ultimate solution is a torchlight product similar to the iPod or the iPhone, yet who gets there first is the billion-dollar question. Corporate finance boutiques are certainly keeping their ears to the ground, with the answer likely to arrive from an unexpected source.
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