The Rise and Fall of Wearable Tech

We’ve witnessed some very high profile product launches in recent years, touting the next big thing in wearable tech.

Yet time and again, they’ve failed to catch on among consumers.

Wearable tech seems like the next logical step for our digital-minded society. So why do they amount to little more than passing fads?

To explore this further, let’s look at two categories of wearable tech: continuous wear and limited scope.

Wearable Tech for Continuous Wear

This category consists of the wearable tech designed for continuous wear by consumers. Examples include smart watches, Google Glass, and Fitbit. These products attract immense curiosity when they are launched and may enjoy significant sales. The true test, however, is whether consumers actually wear the devices as they were designed.

Unfortunately, I can’t point to any exact figures on the extent to which these forms of wearable tech have actually been adapted into everyday life, but as a casual observer, I’d say it’s pretty low. Smart watches are on par with the calculator watches of the 1980s. Google Glass is impractical. And Fitbit trackers have the longevity of a gym membership purchased on New Years Day.

The benefits promised by these products are simply underwhelming. They lack true standalone innovation and frequently require proximity with a smartphone.

Wearable Tech with a Limited Scope

These forms of wearable tech have a limited scope. They are not meant to be worn all day, but rather only for a particular event or situation.

One good example is the GoPro mounted camera, which has a limited use not easily met by any other means. GoPro cameras are often worn to film action-packed events, like skydiving or skiing. They are also gaining popularity among police officers for on-the-job wear.

Another example of limited-scope wearable tech is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for consumer use. Unlike GoPro, this technology is too new to judge in terms of long-term popularity.

Pagers: The Peak of Wearable Tech for Continuous Wear

Wait… seriously? Pagers?

In a time when cellphones were impractical for the average consumer, it was a truly innovative to be able to receive an instant notification of a call or message, no matter where you were.

Not surprisingly, the popularity of pagers tanked when cellphones hit the mass market, but for a few years, pagers were the golden child of wearable tech, offering a clear benefit to the wearer, at a reasonable cost.

Final word

Wearable tech is not doomed to fail. Consumers love new products, but we also demand practicality. For wearable tech to be innovative (see my blog post on “What Is Innovation?“), it must satisfy a consumer need without being a hassle to wear.