Why Wearable Technology Is Fleeting
Larry Alton
MAY 12, 2015 01:25 AM
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Wearable technology has attracted a ton of buzz in the past few years, with special attention over the past few months as Apple readies the official release of the Apple Watch. Consumers, digital marketers, and businesses have all been resetting their expectations and looking to wearable devices as the future of technology, but in reality, these types of devices may only be a short-term fad.

Of course, thinking of wearable devices as a temporary institution goes against mainstream beliefs and in some cases, quantitative data. For example, some research suggests the wearable smart device market will generate more than $53 billion in revenue by the year 2019. On the first day alone, pre-orders for the Apple Watch have been projected to close in on one million, suggesting the landmark wearable device is attracting real buyer interest as opposed to just hype.

Still, this data doesn’t indicate that wearable devices are going to stick around for the long term, or that they’ll be anything more than a few-years-long fad that grips the marketplace. It also doesn’t indicate whether these devices will be used or enjoyed. Instead, this only suggests the number of devices that will be sold, and if you look around your house, you’re likely to find ample quantities of objects and purchases you only had a fleeting interest in.

What Separates Fads From Landmark Evolutions

Every year, there are dozens of new technologies that break into the mainstream. Some of them end up lasting for decades, redefining our expectations for a particular realm—for example, LCD televisions have become so normalized that old-fashioned ones are extremely hard to come by. Some of them end up getting used for a few months and cast aside—for example, fitness activity trackers, which caught on in a flood of consumer interest, only to be abandoned after only a few weeks or months of use.

There is one singular quality that separates the lasting tech revolutions and the temporary highlight-driven fads: to last, technologies must radically improve some area of life without radically changing user behavior. For example, the smartphone was a true revolution that exists to this day as far more than just a fad. It was successful because it improved many areas of our lives without dramatically changing how we behave; already, we were making mobile phone calls, playing portable music, playing mobile games, and managing our schedules on portable devices, but we were doing all these things separately and in non-compatible interfaces. Smartphones allowed us to continue doing all these things, but in a much more efficient package.

Where the Smart Watch Fits In

The smart watch, and by extension wearable devices, do not meet either of these conditions. So far, the wearable devices we’ve seen do not offer more than the average smartphone; they can download apps, access the Internet, make phone calls, and so on, but they do not do so in any radically easy new way. In addition, they do demand a major change in user behavior—they aren’t carried around, they’re attached to you, and you’ll be dealing with a much smaller, more voice-driven interface in order to attain that same functionality.

Possibilities for the Future

This isn’t to say that all wearable devices will fail as short-term fads, and of course, it is possible that consumers readily and permanently adopt them, but in my opinion, it’s likelier that a different kind of tech revolution will need to take place before users accept a new kind of device as the new norm. Something will need to dramatically improve upon everything that smartphones can offer us, not just present them in a different form, and that something will need to represent a gradual shift in our behavior. Only then, can we experience a stable and permanent transition to using a new generation of hardware.

All in all, wearable devices are a landmark development. They have captivated our interest, and whether they succeed or fail, they will make a lasting impact on how tech developers think about user needs. There is still the distinct possibility that wearable devices take off immediately and stabilize, but if prior technology successes and failures are any indication, this generation of device will likely falter within the first few years.

Larry Alton
Freelance Writer
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