The wearables space is quite broad and includes everything from fitness trackers, smartwatches, Augmented Reality glasses and smart jewelery to smart clothes and even implants.

It is all about the connected self and the use of this new technology to do things like monitor your health, play games, improve your physical fitness, save you time, or help you become more organised.

The industry is still lacking a killer feature, platform, or device that can rejuvenate this market. Everyone is looking to the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch to do for wearables what it did for the mobile industry.

Below are some examples of how wearables are being used today.

Wearables and media

Wearables can be used for both content creation and content consumption. Pictures and video can be taken using Google Glass, data is gathered from fitness and health trackers, and news is consumed through notifications and watch apps.

Very few media companies have developed apps for smartwatches, but the soon-to-be-released Apple watch is bound to change this with the Guardian, CNN, and The New York Times having announced their pending Apple Watch apps.

Push notifications are the primary smartwatch use case. The inherently personal property of a watch will require media companies to change the tone, type, and quantity of push messages sent to smartwatch users.

A user will have less tolerance for irrelevant or too frequent push messages that disrupt them on the watch compared to the mobile phone.

Media companies will have to rethink their push strategies and adapt personalised, context-aware notifications that do not annoy.

The introduction of new channels for the consumption of content also highlights the need for establishing newsroom tools and processes that allow media companies to create content that can be easily packaged in different ways for different device sizes and platforms — whether for smartwatches, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, aggregator apps, mobile widgets, mobile devices, tablets, desktop computers, or televisions.

Some of the media smartwatch apps being developed include the following:

Here is a comprehensive article about the media industry and smartwatches.

Wearables and medicine

Probably the most exciting use for wearables technology is in the medical industry.

This includes devices that can help save lives by monitoring the sick or elderly, and devices that can pre-empt illness by sending warning signals to the users and their health professionals.

This space will really become interesting when personal health data tracked with wearable technology is combined with data from other sources like your doctor, the food you are eating, or data from your home or office environment.

This is all data that can help empower individuals to improve their own health, offer doctors more comprehensive context during examinations, and help move healthcare from mainly reactive care to more proactive and preventative care.

Some examples of healthcare wearables are:

  • Khushi – A Kickstarter project that has developed a wearable bracelet for babies to improve vaccination rates in developing countries.

  • Google Contact Lens – Smart contact lenses that measure tear glucose levels that can warn diabetics when their glucose levels are too low.

  • The iTBra developed by Cyrcadia Health – A wearable breast screening system that tracks cellular tissue changes.

  • Neumitra – Uses wearable technology to monitor people’s stress levels throughout the day.

  • Microchips Biotech – Releases drug doses at scheduled intervals using an implant that can be wirelessly activated or deactivated by a physician or patient.

  • BodyGuardian – Developed by Preventice, this is a remote cardiac monitoring technology that allows physicians to monitor important biometric patient data and helps to maintain a constant connection between patients and their care teams.

Wearables and fitness

Fitness has been the initial driver for the consumer wearable space. Almost everything you wear when training is becoming smart: smartwatches, smart clothes, heart rate earphones, headbands, and caps.

The wearable fitness products available currently in the market are suffering from stickiness and establishing user habits. I suspect many of you who bought a fitness tracking wristband have abandoned it after a short period. How important is it for you to know how many steps you have taken every day? Gartner predicts that 50% of people considering buying a smart wristband will choose a smartwatch instead of fitness trackers.

With that said, the era of personal tracking is upon is. The analysis of training routines is not just for professional athletes and their team of data analysts but for amateur fitness enthusiasts looking to train smarter.

Some of the fitness tracking devices available in the market include:

  • Fitbit – Fitness tracking devices.

  • Hexoskin – Smart shirt.

  • LG – Heart rate headphones.

  • Adidas x cell – Body sensor tracking quickness and heart rate.

  • SmartCap from Spree – Measures heart rate, temperature, movement, and calories burned.

  • Smartwatches – One of the main uses for buying a smartwatch is for their fitness features. Some of the main brands are Samsung, Garmin, Moto 360, and Pebble.

  • Misfit Shine – Fitness and sleep monitor.

Wearables in industry

Desk-less workers are being targeted with Augmented Reality glasses. People who need their hands free to do particular jobs can use the glasses to access relevant information while working.

The first version of the Google Glass project failed to gain traction and also suffered an image problem with Google Glass users being labeled as “glassholes.” Google is reportedly rethinking the Google Glass concept based on user feedback from the first version.

Companies in this sector of this industry include:

Wearables in fashion

Smart fashion hasn’t quite hit the high streets yet, and a lot of the initial offerings don’t add any realvalue for users. For example, smart clothing doesn’t really do much more than change colour. There are also cuffs and rings that vibrate when you receive a call.

Fashion industry wearables include:

  • Ringly – Connected rings.

  • Cuff – Notifies you when you get a call or a text. A small sensor can be embedded into different jewellery.

  • Memi bracelet – Vibrates when you receive phone calls.

  • CuteCircuit – Wearable fabrics.

Wearables and authentication

One use case that appears to solve a user problem is authentication and payment. This technology removes the need to take your phone or keys out to start your car, open doors, pay for goods, or check in at the airport. Every connected object you come into contact with would simply know that you are who you are.

If you want a glimpse of the future of wearables, you only have to look at Disneyland’s MagicBands.

Customers receive MagicBands containing a small RFID chip via post prior to their Disneyland visit and can use it to interact with everything at Disneyland from the moment they arrive at the theme park. This removes a lot of the hassle associated with payment, signing in, and queuing while delivering a personalised experience for each visitor.

Check out Wired’s account of the Disneyland experience.

If you want to look at a more extreme example, check out the Swedish biohacking group that has implanted chips under their skin. They can open doors and use the photocopying machine using the RFID chip implanted under the skin.

Finally, the Nymi band measures EKG to uniquely identify users. It seamlessly unlocks devices, remembers passwords, and more by using your heart’s unique signature.

Obstacles for wearables

Despite the possible proliferation of wearable technology, there are still obstacles in this new area. This includes:

  • Ethical questions – The use of all sorts of body-function sensors and the collection of this personal data opens up ethical questions about the use of this data.

    For example, there was an uproar after Samsung updated its privacy policy in regard to its voice control technology used in its some of its televisions. The privacy policy hinted at the data being transmitted to third parties.

    Imagine a scenario where an insurance company can access your health data tracked through a fitness wearable, or advertisers know you are sick through a health sensor. Wearables are collecting inherently personal data, and regulations and privacy policies haven’t kept pace with the technology being developed.

  • Closed APIs – The real value of the data collected from wearables will come when data from multiple sources is aggregated and analysed. At the moment, there are a limited number of companies offering open APIs for accessing data gathered through wearable devices.

  • Battery life – A major obstacle for wearables at the moment is battery life. The introduction of wireless charging and charging via kinetics will drastically help. The challenges faced by smartwatch manufactures include balancing the sensor and a media-rich feature set with the current level of battery life.

  • Physical abuse tolerance – A lot of wearables are worn when undertaking physical activity. Many of today’s wearables are not robust enough to tolerate these conditions. Your wrist, for example, is much more exposed to physical and chemical contact than a device in your pocket.

  • Lost habits - Smartwatch manufacturers must also convince a generation of people who have never worn a watch to start wearing a watch. The majority of smartwatches today also act as an extension to your phone. This requires you to carry your phone with you to do anything useful with your watch, so the watch is merely removing the need to take the phone out of your pocket.

    Smartwatches will truly become smart when they are autonomous, always-connected devices, removing the need to carry your phone.

We’re still in the early days of wearable technology. The emergence of new and cheaper chip sets, developer SDKs, open APIs, improved device aesthetics, improved battery life.

The entry of market leaders like Apple will help move the industry from early adaptors into the mass market. The industry is still waiting for compelling use cases to move wearables beyond the current nice-to-have range of gadgets to more need-to-have devices.