The wearable device proliferation of 2014 continued apace at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, with several device manufacturers showcasing different aesthetics for their devices, and perhaps most tellingly saying ‘wait-and-see’ for releases at MWC (Mobile World Congress) and later this year. What releases there have been are less about expanding the capabilities of the category as much as either establishing companies in the category or making the technology invisible through tighter integration with clothing or the body. As well as new manufacturers producing near-invisible devices, releases from existing players like Misfit and Martian have been focused on making the technology more aesthetically appealing. There were a few new capabilities showcased by LG and Audi linking connected cars and smart watches, but as neither product is ready for launch before 2016, even this future is some way off.
The LG-Audi G Watch R2, running WebOS
Waiting for Some (Internet of) thing
Part of the reason for the wait-and-see was very visible in other areas of CES. Wearables are a class of devices that depend heavily on the IoT (Internet of Things) and potentially M2M (machine-to-machine) capabilities for their use cases to truly shine. The IoT was very present at CES, but as something for the near future, not an existing context for wearables to plug into. Until the IoT is a given, much potential for wearable devices will go unrealised. While MWC will give more breathing space for these developments, there are unlikely to be game-changing implementations before that date. Beyond giving a less cluttered platform to launch devices, MWC is unlikely to get rid of all the wait-and-see attitude that CES has presented.
This hasn’t stopped vendors from establishing their credentials in the category through many different me-too devices, generally in the fitness space. With capabilities fast becoming commodities, the aesthetics of the devices will become even more paramount in the coming year. With the wearables market still relatively small, the category could benefit from a more boutique approach to the devices, putting functionality behind individual design sensibilities. This would then help an already-accepted category expand its uses as the IoT takes off, rather than a rejected niche having to reinvent itself when its use becomes apparent.
Many of the smaller wearables firms at CES have understood this, focusing on simple and intuitive use cases for specific tasks rather than trying to make an everything device that is sold as technology that is then retro-fitted with fashionable exteriors. Mobile computing companies need to take this onboard, accept their niche status for now and promote them as such until the technology can connect with the rest of the IoT and come into its own.