The past several months have seen wearable technology building increased market awareness. But while these are exciting times for the technology, the killer app still needs to be found that will make it useful and drive widespread consumer adoption.
According to the recently released Deloitte Tech Trends 2014 report, wearables do offer a lot of potential. Wearable technology can create opportunities in previously prohibitive business and work scenarios where safety, logistics, and other elements constrain the use of laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
So whilst South Africa business is already identifying ‘wearable’ scenarios and applications that aid production and safety, it is in the consumer space where it needs to appeal before becoming a mainstream consumerised technology.
Several manufacturers have launched smart watches and ‘glass’ products, many of which are companion devices to smartphones or other devices whilst others offer powerful potential replacements to the smartphone. But people need a more useful and enticing value proposition. Let's face it, watches that do more than just tell the time have been around for decades. Just think back to the radio and calculator watches of the past. Most of these were considered gimmicks only used by a small portion of the market.
From a pricing perspective, smartphones offer a lot more value than smart watches. Consumers can purchase a powerful handset from R2,500 with cheaper but still well featured versions available in the market for R500. And considering that a smart watch has a more limited battery life than that of a smartphone as well as the obvious differences in size and usability, people are not that attracted to moving over until the ‘must have’ use-case is created.
Irrespective of the wearable technology used, whether it be glasses or watches, it needs to be developed in a way that is not distracting from real-world interactions and more importantly intruding on our social interactions and our pure human-ness. Already, mobile devices are dominating everything we do. Judging by the glare of small screens when visiting a pub or restaurant, we are already struggling to maintain the balance.
In a market such as South Africa with a diverse prosperity gap where the majority of people still use feature phones and the ones that have migrated to smartphones are faced with high costs of mobile data, wearable technology may take a while to make an impact. Of course, this will not stop the early adopters from rushing out and buying wearable devices as they become available.
But the mainstream market will adopt a wait and see attitude for the next few years at least. Another big concern around any wearable technology is the safety aspect of it especially in countries with high crime rates, after all, a wearable is visible and can easily be stolen!.
So cost, security, and battery life concerns notwithstanding, the key to their success will be those apps which will make wearable technology an indispensable part of a person's daily life. Never has ‘context’ been so important in thinking about app development for the wearable revolution. This is not about simply transferring app ‘content’ from phones to the wrist or the face. This is about understanding how the human user will consume data and information in a wearable ‘context’. And this is where many of us are spending our time - looking for that quality which makes these pieces of technology seamlessly add value to our lives in our super-connected world.
So is wearable technology a disruptive trend that could impact on everything we do? Most definitely. However, the next 18 to 24 months will be key to seeing it increase momentum.
By Tim Bishop, Director at Deloitte Digital @TimBishopSA