As Google unleashes Android Wear, we shortlist six features that we think wearable tech needs to flourish.
1. It has to blend in – not replace – conventional wearables
The biggest challenge, in my humble opinion, that any sort of wearable technology has is that it often ends up clashing with something that is an attitude or style statement. Let’s face it, most people are not going to be too comfortable replacing a carefully chosen watch, bracelet, cufflink, or a pair of spectacles, with a gadget that serves up information, not least because they can already get most of that information in a device that they carry on their person (a mobile phone) already. Perhaps someone needs to look at a small screen that one can clip on to a watch buckle or a wristband, or which magnetically attaches to a sleeve – I liked the ‘clippable’ aspect of the first Sony SmartWatch because it let you use the display even when it was not attached to the wrist band. Basically, the user should not be asked to leave something that he or she has already bought with a lot of interest (and often in large numbers – you should count the number of spectacles some people have) for the sake of wearing something that has bytes in it.
2. It should be independent of handsets/tablets
I cannot stress this enough – a piece of wearable tech should not become a smaller version of your handset or tablet. For, let’s face it, one’s phone is quite often on one’s person anyway. Also pairing a device with a phone does tend to result in battery being gobbled at the rate of knots – of the device itself, and worse, of the phone. And the Lord knows that most smartphone battery lives are already on the lower side – a person without water in the Sahara can survive for longer than most smartphones being used on a 3G network these days! No, in my humble opinion, if a piece of wearable tech has to flourish, it has to do so in its own right, not as an accessory – heck, it should have a totally different OS (why should my wristwatch’s interface look like that of my phone), apps and feature sets. It should be a threat to handsets, not a complement.
3. It should look good
This is something that is shockingly obvious and equally shockingly ignored. I loved the amount of functionality built into the original Galaxy Gear but the camera on the wristband looked like a really bad case of tech acne. At the end of the day, manufacturers have to realize that wearable tech has to look good to the user. Would you willingly wear a ghastly looking wrist band just because it told you when you had received a message (which incidentally, you realize when your phone vibrates as well)?
4. Let there be variety in design on every piece
This is another thing very important. Most of us do not wear the same type of garment (in terms of color, design and finish) every day. In fact, many even try to wear different wristwatches and shoes every day. Assuming therefore that a person is going to be content with a device that looks exactly the same all the time is dangerous. Pebble got it right with its different watch faces and the fact that its strap can be changed easily. If you want people to wear tech, you have to think in terms of fashion – and fashions change. So classically should just about every device. Monotony in my opinion, has no place in the world of wearable tech.
5. It should have battery that lasts… and lasts
Remember the first point about blending in rather than standing out? Well, excellent battery life would help in that. For all the cool factor that wearable tech brings, the fact is that barring the Pebble, battery life has generally tended to be on the awful side. Yes, some might say that having to charge a device 2-3 times a week is not too bad when you consider the number of times one recharges a phone. I repeat – recharging a phone is not fun. It is preceded generally by moments of concern (“I hope the darned thing does not drain out!”) and sometimes of panic (“A power outlet, a power outlet, my kingdom for a power outlet”). The fact is: we are stressed out enough by trying to ensure that our phones and tablets stay charged up. An addition to the list of chargeables is not going to be exactly welcome. And well, there is the little point of hardly ever having to charge your wristwatch, your spectacles or your bracelet. In a perfect world, you would need to recharge your wearable gizmo once a year, if that!
6. It needs to be (REALLY) affordable
The bottom line, and it cannot be stressed enough. Tablets went mainstream mainly because they were surprisingly well-priced (remember how the crowd burst into surprised applause when Jobs announced that the iPad would be priced at $499, rather than the $999 a lot of people had been expecting?). The same cannot, so far, be said of the wearable tech devices, most of which start out costing close to what a mid-segment smartphone costs, and then end up depending on a smartphone for performance. No, I don’t really know what the optimum price for a smartwatch or smartband should be, but I certainly think that it should be low enough for a person to think they are getting a good deal.