The Wearable Revolution that has arrived… Sort of

Wearable technology has been a technological buzzword since 2010. It has captivated consumers’ and enterprises’ attention with the potential to be the technological solution we have sought for decades. However, actual adoption rates haven’t quite reached expectations, with variety of devices not reaching the sales and usage numbers that expert analysts have forecasted. So why have they fallen short? What needs to be fixed? Is the market size potential for these markets still there, or are these products just never going to check enough boxes on a buyer’s wish list? Let’s explore what is slowing down the following wearable technologies:

Smartwatches

Smartwatches have been the wearable many of us have dreamed about as the concept has been idealized throughout the history of film. Whether it is in the stone age of The Flintstones, the tantalizing future of The Jetsons, or helping save the world, again (pick nearly any of the James Bond movies), many of us knew we wanted a smartwatch before there even was one. So when the first true smartwatches hit the market, all of those people were excited at the possibilities. When they finally used their watch, on the other hand, they were…

Disappointed. Which has led to decreasing sales and a shrinking customer base. A few hard truths about where the smartwatch industry was during the start and, in many ways, still is:

• Smartwatch interfaces are slow. While a quick look at the wrist is great way to check if your mother-in-law is calling, actually using a smartwatch beyond a quick action or two leaves a lot of users frustrated. At some point, the convenience of the watch is offset by the efficiency of the phone.

• Hardware evolution is slow for wearables. While most people upgrade their phone every 1-2 years, so far the smartwatch market has shown users can wait longer to switch out their watch. Also the size of the technology limits the size of the watch with a common complaint being that the watches are too big and bulky. It’s the complete opposite of the phone market – now everyone wants a phablet while manufacturers can’t deliver the smaller, sleeker watch people are craving.

• Price point at the launch of the market was high and most offerings have remained too expensive for the typical consumer. A minimal selection of low-cost solutions for consumers has resulted in people viewing the product as a luxury, not a necessity. For many, shelling out a few hundred bucks for a product does the same thing (actually does less) as their phone has left most potential consumers not seeing the value of the watch.

That being said, industry experts remain optimistic about the long-term health of the market as Apple continues to show commitment while Google has released updated software for Android. This has help contribute to a forecast of 2017 smartwatch sales increasing 18%, but not all market forecasters remain as optimistic.

Fitness Trackers

Essentially the smartwatch cousin, fitness trackers’ popularity skyrocketed as many consumers viewed it as a tool to help improve their health. As smartwatches’ and trackers’ capabilities begin to merge, many industry analysts foresee the fitness trackers and smartwatch markets combining into one, as the markets cannibalize each other. It’s a fair assessment; when was the last time you saw someone wearing a Fitbit and an iWatch? However, there is still a divide as different consumers have different needs and both solutions have hardware limitations that prevent a perfect marriage between the two markets for now. While the market is currently strong, there are some core issues that need to be addressed in order for long-term success to be sustained. Here are the hurdles the fitness tracker industry will need to clear in order to meet adoption expectations:

• They can be too inconvenient. For a device that is supposed to be give 24/7, effortless monitoring of a person it can sure be a hassle. Many devices are still not waterproof and require the user to take it off before they go in the shower or swimming. Additionally, battery life on many has continued to be a struggle, with devices needing a charge every few days. What does this result in? People stop wearing them. Add it all up, you have people taking it off up to 10 times a week. That results in them forgetting to put it back on a few times, before they just stop wearing it.

• An influx of cheap options has been a double edged sword for the market as the less expensive options leave consumers irritated with their performance. Users are frequently frustrated by inaccurate data, especially those who are using the device to assist in weight management.

• Corporate wellness programs have contributed to increasing adoption, however privacy concerns have a chilling effect on wearers as concerns over what happens with the data continue to rise. Only 38% of people are interested in medical devices that transmit data, which dramatically decreases the amount of potential customers for fitness tracker manufacturers.

VR Headsets

Virtual Reality is the last form of wearable where sales have not lived up to the hype, with 2016 supposed to have been the year VR finally had its breakout – that didn’t happen, with sales stagnating as consumers hesitate to buy. Overall, VR headset sales didn’t even reach half of its 2016 forecast and industry experts are quickly altering their long term forecasts. So what gives? Why did industry experts completely miss on their predictions? There are a few reasons:

• The initial cost of a VR headset could be considered a lot for the Average Joe. The gaming headsets that give you a top-notch experience are priced in the $400-800 range. The hidden additional cost is what else is needed – you’ll need to spend another $400-$2,000 on either a gaming console or high-powered computer in order to run the headset. Even after all of that money spent, in order to actually have any fun people need to purchase …

• Games. Which, as expected, given how new the technology is, are not as prevalent as other gaming systems. More importantly, there aren’t very many good games. People are getting excited, researching what system to buy, buying all the hardware, buying some games, and then…. They’re underwhelmed. And bored. And sick (we’ll get to that). This is the most addressable of all of the problems hindering adoption though, and it remains highly likely that the games will continue to improve. But in order for people to play those games, there is one major nagging problem that is keeping the VR industry from exploding.

• People keep getting sick. Cybersickness has become a real problem for users, and it is something that here at DI we have maybe emphasized once or twice. The expectation that a person will cumulatively spend over $1,000 for an entertainment item is expensive, but isn’t outrageously expensive. However, if people can’t play for more than twenty minutes at a time it will be quite difficult to do. Go ahead, search #VRsickness, #cybersickness or any other similar term on social media and the web and it’ll be littered with users complaining about being sick. More than anything, this issue is the most necessary issue to resolve in order for the VR market to have long-term success.

• The newness of VR has led to slowed adoption by industries outside of entertainment. The combination of high costs, cybersickness and unfamiliarity results in an expected hesitancy to try out the new technology. As more industries and companies trial the technology, more diverse use cases will be established, and it remains highly likely that this will lead to continued growth in the industry.

Wearable technology is approaching us fast, and what was previously limited to science fiction and our imagination is now available to put on our head or on our wrists. In order for manufacturers to have their products to fly off the shelf, though, they first must address these issues and start meeting the lofty expectations that consumers have set.

For more information on how DI can leverage wearable technologies to improve your corporate wellness programs and training solutions, contact us here or directly email Scott Christian at scott.christian@designinteractive.net.

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