Editors' note: This is a guest column. See Thomas Stuermer's bio below.
What is the next big thing in tech?
The answer is -- potentially -- wearable devices.
New wearable devices, such as smartwatches, have been introduced in recent weeks, creating buzz and curiosity about how big this opportunity could be. Another new development in this market is an application that shows how a head-mounted display, such as Google Glass, could be used to improve execution of surgical procedures.
Progress is happening rapidly on several fronts, but the wearable device market seems to be generating more questions than answers. The devices remain, predominantly, technical fascinations with exciting and widespread market potential. Understanding what this market is -- and is not -- is critical for electronics and tech companies as they consider how to capitalize on this opportunity. Accenture has researched the market and found a number of misconceptions:
Myth No. 1: Wearable devices are just another form factor for smartphones.
The wearable device market encompasses much more than smartphones and smartwatches. The market ranges from clothing to glasses to sports/activity trackers to 3D-motion trackers to wearable cameras.
Combinations of these products are already being brought to market, such as a health tracker embedded in a runner's shoe, and glasses that can record and upload videos as well as do Internet searches. Another potential application is a wearable device embedded in a person's teeth that can monitor what food is consumed and the number of bites taken. Indeed, this market spans multiple industries, applications, and devices.
Myth No. 2: Consumers will quickly embrace wearable tech.
Consumers will warm up to this technology gradually, not quickly. Initially, wearable devices will not be in huge demand. Changing consumer behavior will be the key to driving market momentum. That will take time.
Myth No. 3: Wearable devices are standalone products.
To win the public's imagination and establish a compelling consumer proposition, wearable providers need to think beyond the devices themselves and build around them an ecosystem of services and applications. A successful wearable business model would allow the user to connect to other devices such as a smartphone, listen to music, receive texts or access social networks. Some current wearable devices rely on tethering or Wi-Fi connections for a limited online connection.
Devices with their own dedicated service networks will carry more market legitimacy. Wearable device manufacturers who already have these services in their portfolio and can offer smooth interoperability between devices, are more likely to have a competitive edge. The services that wearable devices enable will be key disruptive forces. A pivotal market driver will be when the devices do new things in new ways.
Myth No. 4: The wearable market is new.
Wearable devices have been around for much longer than the wave of product announcements that recently occurred. The term was used as early as the 1990s. Wearables such as pace makers have been used widely in health care for many years. In fact, the first computers became commercially available in 1974 when the first wristwatch with a digital display was unveiled.
Myth No. 5: The wearable market will remain a niche.
The market for wearable technology is not going to be a niche but rather a broad set of products across multiple industries and applications particularly health care and wireless. Consumer electronics companies, for example, view wearable technology as a growth opportunity to revitalize their operations.
Their challenge is creating a definitive consumer device that captures the public's imagination and legitimizes the technology in new ways beyond narrowly focused applications. Consumers are more likely to be drawn to the less obtrusive wearables such as watches and pedometers.
By contrast, enterprises, which tend to be less concerned with aesthetics, will be more likely to move forward with wearable displays embedded in safety glasses and other parts of the standard work environment. In the future, wearable devices may be more about collecting data, such as air quality, temperature and humidity, than about displaying it. The focus may shift to controlling other devices in the environment such as consumer applications and industry-specific enterprise equipment.
Myth No. 6: First to market is a can't-miss winning formula.
Wearable device manufacturers who are first to market will not necessarily dominate. Manufacturers need to reach targeted audiences with a device that is aesthetically pleasing, stylish, practical and convenient. Initial products have had bulky designs, less-than-compelling functions, and impractical applications that don't justify their high costs.
When designing wearable devices, fashion will be a big consideration. Manufacturers should work together with fashion and design houses to produce devices that don't sacrifice fashion for functionality. Wearable devices tailored along gender lines that can be accessorized also have potential. The key will be to get the design aesthetic right rather than commercializing a generic product just to be first.
Myth No. 7: Power consumption and batteries will not be big issues.
As the miniaturization of technology continues, devices become more power hungry. Chip manufacturers need to develop products featuring the right balance of low power and value-added functions that don't subtract from one another. Future innovations with higher energy densities, extended cell lives, and reduced charging time are possible. In the near future, however, commercial availability and affordability will be elusive. Manufacturers will need to compromise, doing their best to hide or streamline bulky battery components.
Myth No. 8: Wearable devices are secure.
Security and privacy are, and will continue to be, major concerns with wearable devices, particularly as lawmakers have begun to consider legal implications of 24/7 video recording, personal data collection, and highly targeted ads. Future regulation will likely be complex and vary by country.
To prepare for this, wearable manufacturers should start laying security protocols on top of their products in anticipation of legal restraints and consumer concerns. These protocols will need to be flexible because these laws will change. Offering remote, software-based updates will be an important precaution for keeping products appropriately secured.