In January 1946, infamous cartoon detective Dick Tracy unveiled to the world the future of wearable technology when he used his 2-way wrist TV/phone to get himself out of a tight jam and the world would never be the same. If Star Trek inspired a generation of engineers and scientists by showing them how technology could be used if you let your imagination run wild, then the Dick Tracy watch paved the way. Apple’s Tim Cook was quoted as saying at the launch of the Apple Watch “I have been wanting to do this since I was 5 years old.” Harking back to 1965, the Dick Tracy watch was still the coolest gadget around (to be copied by Hollywood imitators soon after). Today’s smartwatch has essentially been in development since the 80’s when Seiko launched the first programmable calculator watch. Adding true computing power changed everything in 2010 when Samsung introduced the Gear Smartwatch. The Apple Watch would be launched 5 years later to mixed reviews and slower than expected sales.
These slow sales are not just with Apple however. The whole smartwatch industry is in a tailspin with pioneer Pebble selling off its assets to Fitbit and having all its future products cancelled. Even Fitbit, the darling of the health tracker wearable, is having trouble expanding its line of niche trackers into a larger audience. How many of us have a Fitbit or Jawbone sitting in a drawer, battery dead, now that the novelty has worn off? There are staggering statistics that nearly 2 out of every 3 fitness trackers are abandoned within the first 4 months after purchase.
Todays smartwatches are rapidly displacing dedicated fitness trackers as they provide a multitude of functions, but I have to admit, after owning an Apple Watch for a few months now, I find its usefulness is limited. Apple Pay is cool and works well, but friends always think I am in a hurry when I am reading notifications on my watch.
In 2013, Google developed Google Glass, allowing a user to consume information from their connected android device through a type of heads up display now readily known as augmented reality. Google discontinued its Glass program in 2015 but remains committed to the technology. A number of other companies today are developing next-generation glasses that promise to pick up where Glass left off.
As a true early adopter of technology, I have owned or tried all of the above (except for Dick Tracey’s watch) and have found pros and cons for each. I continue to believe in the future of wearables (i.e. they are not dead) however they need to be less conspicuous and truly enrich our daily lives.
Rob Whent is an Industrial Technology Advisor with the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, helping accelerate the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises by providing them with a comprehensive suite of innovation services and support. He can be reached by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any views or opinions expressed are that of the author and do not represent those of NRC.