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Are Wearables Tethered Or Tied Down?

Is the link from mobile to wearable harming their ongoing success?

18May

Wearable technology has become a natural progression from the computers that we now each have in our pockets. We already have the technology we want within arms reach and we now have companies trying to give us this on our wrist. The biggest question surrounding this is whether this is really something that people want?

One of the strengths that smartphones have given us is that we have a slimmed down version of what a desktop computer can give us. We do the things we want to do without needing to be near a desktop computer in order to do it. It allows us to go to a meeting and not worry about missing an important email whilst we are away, we can track our social media without needing to use a browser and we can stay in contact with people wherever we are.

Just like the telephone went from wired, to cordless, to mobile, the personal computer did roughly the same thing.

However, the leaps that have allowed us to use technology further from a central point have been growing until the wearable has come along. Think about it this way, we moved from within a metre of a phone, to within 50m of a phone dock, to within a few miles of an antenna. The leaps were big and the next logical step would be moving even further.

However, we are being told that the leap is actually tiny, from your pocket or bag to your wrist or head. We have moved from the large jumps in freedom to a perceived laziness, a maximum of 50cm from your phone to something that is attached to your body.

So does this mean that it is being marketed in the wrong way?

I believe that the marketing is not the issue, but instead the way that most wearable technology is required to work, by being tethered to your mobile in order to work properly. It means that it can make it slightly more convenient to check small aspects of what you can see on your phone, but the very link itself is one of the key aspects that is limiting the wearable market.

A truly groundbreaking technology is one that genuinely breaks ground, not simply making what you already have slightly easier to use. Moving a notification away from the pocket to the wrist is not going to persuade people that it will make their life better. Having a piece of technology on your wrist that can do its own work is what people want, something that doesn’t require a link to your phone (whilst depleting the phone's battery in the process) is something that few apart from the earlier adopters would appreciate.

Most of the feedback that I have seen about the Apple Watch, for instance, says that it’s good, but the second generation will undoubtedly be better. What I believe this translates to is that people were expecting something more than just a way to track your health and see notifications from Facebook on a smaller screen, it needs something that you couldn’t do before, freeing you from something that could have held you back.

We have seen that with the rise in mobile technology, but we are yet to see any of this with wearable technologies.

What this kind of leap will look like nobody knows, it is probably still an idea in a designers head who is yet to make his or her name. It could be an autonomous wearable system that can offer usability benefits by itself, it could be something altogether more pronounced, like being able to link back to everything, a central server for every piece of electronics you use and allow it to all communicate together, allowing you to see absolutely everything that is happening from your wrist.

It would act essentially as a dashboard for your life, not simply an extension of your phone’s capabilities.

You could argue that a phone could easily do this, but this kind of dashboarding at a glance is something that a watch would be ideal for. A phone with its potentially millions of uses due to the comparatively large screen should be utilized to its full capabilities, a watch simply could not do this. It needs instead to not be linked to one device to extend that device's functions, but instead be a quick look at everything.

This may be what it eventually becomes, but in the present situation we are not going to see this until a well adopted piece of wearable tech creates its own connections, which in itself presents questions about the type of battery necessary and, as a knock-on effect, the size of the wearable.

This situation is a catch 22. In order to improve wearables, they need to have a commercial uptake but in order to have a real commercial uptake they need to improve. So saying that the second iteration of the Apple Watch will be so much better is very much dependent on the success of the current model, something which the reviews making this point may not be currently helping with. 

Whether or not the second iteration is an improvement will fall on the dependency on other devices to make it work. Once we see a smartwatch that is genuinely smart, is when we will see this technology truly take off, until we get to that point everybody will still be saying that the next version will be better. 

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