It’s probably fair to say that wearable technology hasn’t quite taken off in the way Samsung and Apple might have hoped. The Apple Watch, for example, was called “confusing” by The Guardian upon its initial release in 2015 while Samsung’s attempts at cracking the niche are approaching double figures.
The technology appears to be close to fulfilling its potential, however. The Apple Watch 2, which appeared on shelves earlier this year, is a sterling effort from the tech giant. The redesigned WatchOS3 fixes many of the issues with the original device and a new focus on fitness gives the Watch a purpose beyond mere fashion accessory.
So, with the momentum behind companies like Apple (not to mention all the medical companies, fitness and diet firms, and law enforcement agencies throwing their lot in with the technology) where do wearables go from here? From a consumer perspective, the short answer is nowhere – unless a few tweaks are made to the technology.
It’s a cynical way to start but wearable tech like the Apple Watch has a few flaws associated with miniaturization. Smartwatches need another leap in technology to improve processor speed and battery life in particular. At present, power-intensive tasks like games, heart-rate monitors, phone calls, and GPS eat battery life in a matter of hours.
There’s a good reason – watches are designed for glance-based use, not always-on activity – but it’s nevertheless a limitation of the technology that reduces its possibilities as far as developers are concerned. A good example is game creators. Titles like Runeblade and Spy Watch are fun but heavily stripped down experiences.
It’s a shame as the Apple Watch is perfect for certain kinds of games. For example, the casino industry showed an interest in wearables early on with slot game Thunderstruck II. The title is, again, a ‘lite’ version of a larger smartphone game but it’s a fully functional app and a show of confidence in Apple’s diminutive smart device.
Casino operators have also shown an interest in smartwatches. Functions like Siri voice control and touch-based gameplay could allow simple apps, like slot machines, to find a place on wearables. PocketWin, for example, an operator which stands out in the industry as one of the few offering casino deposit by phone, has already brought its slots to mobile; it’s not too much of a leap to imagine the company putting the reels on gamers’ wrists too. For instance, their Cheese Chase slot machine with its rectangular board game-style minigame would fit nicely on a smartwatch.
Moving away from gaming and watches, wearables are less likely to have an obvious, physical presence on a user’s body in the future. You only have to look at Google Glass for a reason – the device split the world into two distinct groups according to Scientific American, the “smug” people who wore Glass and the deeply suspicious people who didn’t.
People aren’t ready to see cyborg-like people on the high street, pieces of metal and plastic attached to their bodies. For this reason, smart clothing looks like the next horizon in wearable technology. Smart bras, for example, are an existing alternative to fitness bands for female athletes and casual runners alike.
Smart jewelry is perhaps a more embryonic version of the above. It’s close to useless from a ‘smart’ perspective (most just notify you of phone notifications with a flashing LED) but it follows the same route as intelligent clothing in making wearables less conspicuous. Going forward, developers need to put their technology in things people wear every day.
Nobody has to make a decision about wearing clothes; they do with smart watches. Wearables won’t succeed until consumers can stop making that decision. Putting a health monitor in essential clothing – like socks or a gym shirt – is a great way to get people to stop thinking about whether or not to take a fitness tracker on their morning run.