Wearable tech is the next big thing, but where is it headed? We've been talking to Vodafone's resident futurologist to find out.

smartwatches

Before Christmas we asked some of the world’s biggest mobile brands what the next big trends will be in 2014. The biggest answer? Wearable tech. But what exactly does that mean? And what will wearable tech look like by the end of this year and beyond?

 

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We’ve caught up with Patrick Harrison-Harvey, Vodafone’s resident futurologist, to find out why tomorrow’s tech won’t just sit in your pocket.

The story so far

“On the wearables front, you’ve currently got various approaches,” says Patrick, explaining that smartwatches aren’t the only thing on offer. “Sony, for instance, has just announced a life-tracking band, a bit like the Nike FuelBand. What it’ll do is handle all your fitness tracking but also your sleep patterns, how long you’ve been listening to music, etc. It’ll track all your activity and present it back to you in a beautiful format on the phone.

“The point of a wearable is as an extension of the phone; the phone is the central hub.”

“They’re going down that route, but there’ll be more watches as well from them. I think smartwatches are definitely here to stay,” Patrick tells us.

He explains that at the moment, wearable tech extends to range of these life-tracking wrist bands, along with the first smattering of smartwatches.

“The point of a wearable is as an extension of the phone; the phone is the central hub – the computer that’s powering it – and the watch is just a terminal on your wrist. This year we’ll see wearable video cameras, better Bluetooth accessories (like in-ear pieces that aren’t big and clunky), more watches and more tracking bands.”

But, as Patrick reveals, there’s a knack to getting these things right; and whoever does will have a real edge…

The price is right

“The art is trying to get below a certain price. The recently released GALAXY Gear is on the high end of things – Samsung has thrown everything into it – but with wearables, I think you’ve got to try and get down to £100 and below to really get people’s attention.

“Unless it’s a standalone product that doesn’t need the phone, a wearable should be cheaper than the phone, and that’s definitely the way to go in the future, I think.”

“The overall experience of a wearable should enhance your phone,” Patrick explains, so it’s in everyone’s interest to bring these things together.” We asked if that meant bundling both your phone and the wearable tech – whatever that may be – into the same box, just like you get your headphones included at the moment. “Ultimately, the ability to do that comes down to the overall cost of the units.”

Ok, so we may be a while from that kind of wearable tech ubiquity as part of our every day life, but we can dream; it’s time to find out what’s coming a few years down the line…

The eyes have it

“In the future, I’m not sure if the whole Google Glass thing is going to take off massively,” Patrick says. “It’ll be a small bunch of people that buy those, and that’s just because of the battery life, the overall size of the unit and its cost – there’s lots of things that make it seem impractical.”

A bit ahead of its time, then? “If you can incorporate that technology into stuff that already exists, that’s quite useful. For example, Oakley do a pair of goggles for skiing and snowboarding that shows information like your speed and altitude in front of your eyes. That’s great because you’re already going to be wearing goggles in that situation anyway.

“If you could build something like Google Glass into a standard pair of glasses, rather than something chunkier, then it becomes more socially acceptable.

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“Some car companies have come up with similar concepts,” he adds, “where wearable glasses show you your speed and satellite navigation. It works in situations where it enhances what you’re doing, rather than distracts you. Running is another great example, with running watches that track you as you go – they’re already popular.”

So if Patrick thinks Google Glass will live in a bit of an awkward middle phase for wearable tech, what’ll surpass it? What’s the ultimate destination?

“In labs, they’ve got the tech to put a display onto contact lenses…”

“In laboratories, they’ve got (albeit not to a properly workable format) the technology to put a display of sorts onto contact lenses. That display is only about a single pixel – it’s not anything grand just yet – but that’s the start of the future.

“It’s a way off because there’s problems with how you power something like that, but you can imagine having a display that augments information over your eyes, without really having to ‘wear’ anything at all.” The stuff of Sci-fi books, maybe, but it’s on its way.

“I’d like to stay at the forefront of wearables,” Patrick says in closing. And if he’s at the forefront, then Vodafone will be there also.

More futurology: Patrick’s seen what’s coming, and he’s told all to Vodafone Social. Check out the future of phone screens here, and the future of mobile phone platforms here.