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Where are Wearables Headed?

By Special Guest
Sabrish Surender, Associate Director, Technology at Virtusa Corp
January 07, 2016

The wearables market has so far been mostly confined to smart watches and fitness bands. Smartwatches marketed by almost all major smartphone brands are sold as devices to strictly pair with specific smartphones. Even if smartwatches are sold as standalone product, they have very limited features.

According to one Forrester survey, none of the top five user priorities – accessing maps, taking photos and video, receiving contextual information about your location, shopping online, and performing web searches – were met by wearables. A major hurdle therefore is the difficulty in selling the benefits of the product. Fitness bands, meanwhile, have been regarded as a cheap alternative for smartwatches, competing with them for fitness tracking. Yet there is only so much real estate on the wrist – another dilemma for competing device types.

Does this mean wearables are stalling to a slow death? Definitely not. Any wearable that is more of a need than a want is going to shift from fringes to the mainstream. However, when it comes to looking ahead, contextual apps driven by wearables with a multiple of input options for voice, motion and gesture, and new categories of wearables with unique form factions designed for greater industry applications are where wearable computing is heading over the next few years.

With regard to a smaller form factor in wearables, the present UI-based interface will not work because of inherent difficulties to swipe and launch apps. The alternative is to make use of sensors bundled with the wearables, capture the interaction native to the device, and detect the situation the user is in to help them access content they are trying to access. For instance, a person with a wearable would receive a notification about calories burned right after their workout, get weather updates as soon as they stepped outside, get the best deals when he walks into a mall, and a scrolling banner of important emails as soon as he steps into his office – all without a single touch. It is imperative to provide more context-sensitive, correlated information right at the time a user is expecting it.

The key enablers for this change in approach to wearables would be the evolution of wearables themselves with innovative form factors – ones thriving in an ecosystem built with interconnected devices (IoT), aided by the widespread use of beacons (nearables) to identify locations and things.

Innovative wearables with contextual apps have already begun disrupting the following industries: Payments: MasterCard has launched a new program that can turn any consumer gadget, accessory or wearable into a payment device. Items like rings, apparels, wrist bands/watches, pocket clocks and smart key fobs will help make secured digital payments seamlessly.

Logistics: Motorola and FedEx started using a new wearable scanning system where a hands-free imager is worn on a finger and a small terminal is worn on the employee’s wrist or hip. The ring imager automatically scans using label-sensing technology. Also, Google glasses are being piloted by DHL to improve picking processes for warehouse operations, using an AR based “vision picking” application.

Healthcare: Stanford University Medical Centre is experimenting with the use of a special type of wearable glass to give doctors an outline of a patient’s veins, which helps them guide a needle with greater accuracy. In terms of small healthcare players Health Care Originals provides a wearable solution for managing asthma, and Zeev Zalevsky provides home-use cancer detecting plaster.

Smart clothing: The Avanto diving suit system enables a safer and more comfortable diving experience in cold-waters. It consists of innovatively designed clothing with infrared radiation elements powered by a wireless battery module to generate heat required for keeping the body warm. Factories are starting to look into ways of embedding sensors on clothing to monitor movements, heart rate and respiratory systems to assess a worker’s health and risk of fatigue, especially during demanding tasks.

The wearables industry outlook is positive with regards to several areas – sports, fitness, health, insurance, wellness, gaming, lifestyle, payments, safety, security, clothing and jewelry included. The outlook grows greater if they are designed to be industry-specific, with the right form factors, a balanced ecosystem of connected devices, and are driven by contextual applications. 




Edited by Ken Briodagh


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