At $8 billion in 2013 revenues (projected), the wearable technology market is nascent but promising. By 2017, revenue from these new devices is projected to grow to $20 billion.
Numbers like that are just one of the reasons I get excited about new technologies, and I’ve been particularly excited about wearable technologies. But so far, wearable technologies have a lot in common with Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.
Take health monitoring and fitness devices, for example. They’re generating the vast majority of the revenue in the wearable technology sector. Why? Because the functionality of these devices is quite impressive. Most can track your movements, monitor your workouts and even measure the quality of your sleep. And because these fitness devices offer convenient technology that has wide appeal to a health-conscious market.
Smartwatches: Still Seeking Value Prop
In comparison, smartwatches to date remain a puzzling wardrobe accessory. Just look at the recently announced Samsung Galaxy Gear. While smartly designed, it fails to offer distinguishing features to warrant the $300 price tag — let alone the burden of another device to charge.
Gear is closely tethered to the Samsung Galaxy line of mobile phones. In fact, you must use a Galaxy phone if you want your Gear to be more than a fancy watch. Ironically, there are less people wearing watches today because smartphones provide the time — anywhere in the world — and much more.
Yes, Gear can receive push notifications, initiate phone calls, record conversations, pull up the weather, and of course, display the time, but you still have to go to your phone to read a Gmail message or Facebook notification. And that makes Gear something less than a smaller screen smartphone. Basically, everything you can do on Gear can be done better on your smartphone.
Presumably, the smartwatch’s smaller form factor would be appealing to consumers, but the reality is that slimline smartphones are pretty darn small and easy to use. Some actions like taking pictures with Gear are quite awkward, frankly. You have to contort your wrist to take a low-quality picture, which ultimately gets synced with — surprise! — your phone.
Google Glass: Waiting for Apps
Despite hearing similar criticism of Google Glass, I saw Glass as a worthy entrant in the wearable market. Many continue to see Glass as a geek gadget, but I see it as a hands-free device with the potential to augment our daily lives with information and applications that can be executed with simple voice commands. In fact, the functionality of Glass continues to be enhanced with impressive features such as voice-activated calendaring and directions. That said, Glass still needs more applications before it is worth the $1,500 list price.
Like Glass, smartwatches will only get better as new applications are introduced. As is the case with all platforms, they live and die by the availability of applications. Sure, the iPhone was slick and looked like something we’d never seen before, but its utility really came from the applications available on the device. And it flourished because of the App Store.
Regardless of any head scratching caused by wearable tech pioneers, these vendors should be praised for taking risks and thinking outside of the box. Smartwatches and smart Glasses are an evolution of one of the greatest technology innovations in the last several decades — mobile computing.
Mobile computing has changed the way we work, play and socialize. In many ways, it has enhanced every aspect of society. Mobile has created new markets, generated net new profits for companies, created jobs for millions and arguably made our lives easier and more enjoyable. So it is no easy task to create something even incrementally better in mobile computing as we know it today.
No doubt, these early offerings will define the wearable technology market. In turn, wearable technology will extend the golden age of mobile computing. What do you think? What does the box of wearable technology chocolates hold in store?
Raj Sabhlok is the president of Zoho Corp., which is the parent company of Zoho.com and ManageEngine. Follow him @rajsabhlok.