We speak to Wareable.com Executive Editor James Stables to find out what the future holds for wearable tech, and why 2016 is the year it'll take off...
It’s pretty clear that 2016 is going to be a huge year for wearable technology. We’ve already looked at the proliferation of wearables at CES 2016 in Las Vegas and what some of these gadgets can do for your health and fitness, but wearable gadgets are capable of so much more than just monitoring your health.
Today’s smartwatches can alert you to calls, texts and emails, update you with calendar appointments, let you access social media and even make payments with services like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. So, are we on the brink of a wearable revolution? We sat down for a chat with James Stables – Executive Editor at Wareable.com – to get his take on the short and long term future for wearable technology.
It’s all about convergence
“CES this year was huge from a fitness wearables point of view,” says James. “That’s still the sector with the most obvious benefits to people I think, which explains why so many of us are buying into them. For the first time since the Nike FuelBand, we’re seeing huge sports brands with a degree of ‘cool’ jumping into the wearable market in a big way, with Under Armour and New Balance both recently revealing new wearable tech. If there’s any sign that this sector is a big deal, it’s Under Armour – the second largest manufacturer of sports apparel in the world – coming in and making a whole suite of fitness wearables. That’s not really been done before.
“I think we’ll see more technologies converging together. The Fitbit Blaze, for example, is a mixture of fitness tracking and smartwatch features coming together. Garmin’s latest Forerunner watches show text messages and calls, as well as all the technical GPS and fitness tracking they’ve traditionally done.”
So the wearable revolution shows no signs of stopping, with 2016 already showcasing plenty of cool new products. But with the market now full of hundreds of different devices with different functionality and design philosophies, what does the short and long term future look like for wearable tech?
“I think you’re going to see devices shrinking and merging, technology wise,” explains James. “The next major step will be when you can get an Apple Watch with GPS, or when the standard Fitbit can make payments and alert you to calls.”
Can we expect ‘fitness bands’ and ‘smartwatches’ to become the same products, in time? “Probably,” says James. “There’ll always be different price points, and budget devices will look different to premium devices, but at the end of the day you only have two wrists and most people don’t want to wear more than one device – they want one that looks good and does everything. All the technology is there, but no-one has really pulled it all together into one device just yet. There’s every chance we could see that device at some point this year.”
“I think you’re going to see devices shrinking and merging, technology wise…”
Separate to the health and fitness side of wearables, James sees another distinct area that’s yet to fully take off. With heart rate, sleep and even blood sugar level monitors aplenty, the technology for medical wearables has already arrived, and when someone manages to put it all into an affordable consumer package, James thinks it could become a huge part of our lives:
“The future of healthcare is said to be that the onus will be on you to go away with the necessary wearable kit and monitor yourself,” he says, “and then have that data sent to your doctor so they can save time in diagnosing you.
“Diabetes is an example that everyone uses because it hospitalises a lot of people needlessly, but if diabetics can have their own blood sugar monitors to constantly check their levels and feed that data to their doctor, it potentially reduces a lot of stress on the healthcare service.
“Now, those wearables need to be cheap enough for people to buy, but they’ll also need to be user friendly and look at least moderately attractive. That’s where the consumer and medical worlds will collide. There are plenty of other questions that need answering. Would we be issued these devices on the NHS, for instance? And how will doctors be set up to receive all that data? But a lot of the technology exists already – it’s just waiting to be pulled together.”
Constant connectivity? “It’s inevitable.”
We recently spoke to Linden Tibbets, co-founder of IFTTT, to get his take on what the connected future looks like for most regular users. With wearable technology set to become an intrinsic part of our connected lives, we asked James whether he thinks we’ll soon reach a point of constant connectivity. His answer? “It’s inevitable.”
“Connectivity will start to become a standard thing for many of these products,” he says. “Wearables are a symptom of the way technology gets more personal as it evolves – it’s natural that our addiction to phones and the internet would emerge in a more personal form, where you have those things physically attached to your wrist.
“I think that it’s inevitable that that we’re rolling towards a future where we’re surrounded by connected gadgets,” he says in closing. “IFTTT is a fantastic service, but I think that someday something like IFTTT will bring all your devices together without you having to set anything up.
“All of our technology connecting seamlessly without interference – that’s the future.”