Wearables is a word that can make one weary in the sphere of online tech journalism. It’s been a buzzword for at least a year now, and many are predicting 2014 could be its breakout year. Tech you wear isn’t new, but many more people are throwing their hats in the ring with new products, many of which will be on display at CES. The problem: None of those playing in this space have yet demonstrated that they’ve got something most people are willing to add to their existing wardrobe.
At CES, wearables will be featured prominently. Pebble, Kiwi Wearables, MYO, Lumo, Fitbit, Qualcomm, MetaWatch and more will all have booths at the show and likely product news, too. There’s an entire zone dedicated to wrist-borne gadgets, and we’ll no doubt see a slew of face-based devices in the vein of Google Glass, too.
But what I’m looking for from any of the companies during the Consumer Electronics Show is a device that gets the “Consumer” part of that equation exactly right, and delivers an experience people will be glad to go out of their way to actually wear – and not for a fortnight, but for a long, long time, until something better that fits the same need comes along.
Gadgets don’t interest general consumers by virtue of their potential or their value as objects unto themselves, they appeal because of their use value, and because they answer a specific question consumers have of “How I can I do x, y or z?” They gain mass adoption and traction when they can provide the best possible answer to that question, and when they can do those things consistently and reliably with a minimum of frustration and a maximum of joy.
Asking people to introduce new gadgets into their lives is a big ask – people are used to devices delivering at the very least a small amount of frustration and added complication to their existing load, thanks to tech support and troubleshooting that happens with even the best-designed devices. And even the low barrier of just having to plug one more thing into an outlet at night or during the day will turn off a huge number of potential buyers – unless the benefit you get by doing so is demonstrated amply and clearly.
I’m not convinced anyone so far has done that. Google is continually skirting the line between inciting privacy wonks to decry Glass and demonstrating its appeal to the skydiver set; Pebble is making a case to information addicts, but has been slow to extoll the virtues of its smartwatch as a more versatile platform. Activity trackers of all sorts have done a good job appealing to a particular niche of consumers, but I’m still left asking “now what” and it’s not a question answered by the emerging crop of second-generation devices.
The annual show in Las Vegas presents the perfect opportunity for these companies to actually show regular folks why they need, or should at least want, wearable tech. A few will be trying to do just that on our Hardware Battlefield stage, in fact. But the bar is high, and it’ll take more than just a slightly different take on what’s already out there to make wearables really take off in 2014.