Healthy interest in wearables means it’s a matter of time before they go mainstream

The playing field for wearables is becoming ever more crowded, but we have yet to reach the tipping point.

It is no secret that wearables are a big part of the future of technology. Every developer from A to Z is either operating in the space or trying to figure out how best to enter it, Apple included.

The current landscape of body-borne computers includes everything from smartwatches and fitness trackers all the way through to smartglasses. The playing field for wearables is becoming ever more crowded, but we have yet to reach the tipping point, with no single company releasing a product that has fully captured the imagination of the consumer base. Why?

The products available now – whether they are smartwatches or fitness trackers – have far too many shortcomings to really go mainstream. Major concerns about these products are battery life, design and functionality.

Most of the smartwatches already on the market have a battery life that lasts, at best, a couple of days. And apart from looking awkward in most cases, many people wonder why they would give up their perfectly capable classic timepieces for something less convenient that adds very little value. It is fair to say that the ability to answer calls and take photos through a smartwatch has garnered very little interest from those that do not yet own such a device.

Fitness trackers, on the other hand, have had a slightly better run at the wearables game. Their designs are minimalist, less intrusive and easier to operate, while their batteries last close to a week before requiring a recharge.

However, some caution is required with respect to fitness trackers, as once smartwatch manufacturers find the right formula they will begin to eat into the tracker business. After all, consumers will not want to wear two separate products when they can simply have one device that does everything.

Regardless of whether a wearable is a smartwatch or a fitness tracker, the major theme of these products is their capacity to measure one’s health. These devices can keep track of factors such as sleep habits, heart rate, calories consumed, distance travelled – and the list goes on.

Although Apple disappointed its fans by not releasing an iWatch during the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2014 in San Francisco in June, the company did unveil Health, an application that is to be released this year with iOS 8 and act as a hub for all health- and fitness-related devices and apps.

Apple has identified a clear opportunity in the wearable and health sector of the technology community.

The information that tech users typically generate and collect on a daily basis is incredibly valuable, and could be even more so if there was the opportunity to combine it all together.

At the moment, users have different devices collecting different information and storing it all in stand-alone apps. But when collated, that information has the potential to give users, and their healthcare providers, a much more complete and cohesive picture of both an individual’s and a group’s health.

The arrival of Health signals a new approach for Apple, and the advantages are far-reaching. For starters, smart apps and devices will become even smarter. For example, when a fitness tracker app is able to talk to a calorie counter, it can then tailor the user’s workout accordingly. And when a person visits a healthcare provider, that individual’s health status can be seen and monitored in one place along with the results of any tests, maximising the focus and accuracy of treatment.

Although Apple has yet to officially enter the wearables space with a device of its own, the company has clearly embraced the future of wearables and the increased interest in health in general.

New rumours surrounding the iWatch all point towards an October unveiling.

Saad Elkhadem is a research analyst at IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa

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Published: August 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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