Understanding the Social Impact of Wearables

2014 draws to an end, and amongst all technological innovations that I’ve seen this year, I feel that the wearable market has really upped itself. The portable devices that were restricted to keeping track of fitness have now virtually evolved into mini computers – with capabilities ranging from checking notifications, responding to email and even playing light games!

But is that all there is to the wearable world? Are they mere extensions of your digital world and aids to connectivity, or can they double up as something much more powerful? I sincerely believe that wearables do have a strong social impact – if given the right drive and focus group, wearables can serve multiple purposes.

STATISTICS

I will digress from my usual modus operandi – wherein I ended off with data – and will begin this article with some statistics on the current wearable scenario. The reason is simply that it would create a much more concise understanding of how popular wearables are today.

First off, let’s look at the growth in popularity of wearables. Here’s the Google Trend for the term ‘Wearables’. The rise in interest is very evident.

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(View the trend in detail by clicking on the image)

Next, a few facts and figures.

1. Valuation of the Wearable Market : What was seen at $6.3 Million in 2010 has jumped to $5.1 Billion in 2014. Judging by the current growth rates, it is estimated to surpass $12.6 Billion by 2018. (Source : Head Tech)

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(Source: Ogilvy and Mather)

2. 71% of Americans say that wearable technology has improved their health. (Source : Rackspace)

3. 54% of Americans and 46% of Brits indicated that wearable tech has boosted their self-confidence (Source : Rackspace)

4. As far as wearable tech startups are concerned, they’ve got support from investors to the tune of over $500 million since 2009. (Source : Shieber)

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(Source: Statista)

CURRENT USES OF WEARABLES

This is a topic that does not need much introduction, and yet is quite relevant if we’d like to get a larger picture on how the usage of wearables can be enhanced further.

Going over the points in a nutshell,

1. Wearables nowadays help you interact better with your world. Notable in this regard are Smart Glasses (such as Google Glass and the Recon Jet).

2. Smart Watches need no introduction, and constantly update according to your physical and digital worlds.

3. Head Mounted Displays offer 3D Virtual Reality Experiences (which I’ve already discussed upon in my previous article on VR). Examples include the Oculus Rift.

4. Intelligent headphones monitor heart rate and generate 3D Audio Environments.

5. Smart apparel include biometric sensors embedded within the fabric for fitness and health management. (eg: Athos)

SOCIAL IMPACT

Now this is where things get really, really interesting. Tiny portable devices which can be worn by a user can turn out to be quite a multi-faceted device. The scope of the fields they can be applied to is truly limitless.

Wearable technology can find tremendous potential in the following fields, which I’ll be elaborating upon later. These fields can be broadly classified as:

COMMERCE

MARKETING

SOCIAL CONNECTIVITY

HEALTHCARE

FITNESS

SECURITY

AUGMENTED SENSORY PERCEPTION

COMMERCE

It’s an open secret that Ecommerce is booming. No matter which country you are a resident of, there will always be a couple of online stores which perpetually see a mad rush of customers. And with major improvements in connectivity and logistic systems, it has become much easier to shop via Ecommerce portals.

Now, where does wearable technology come into the equation? It’s quite simple actually.

The main requisite for Ecommerce is the presence of a phone or a computer, and with a wearable, the computer is always near you! If aided with a proper support system from the vendor, it would give rise to faster ordering and faster delivery, from anywhere to anywhere!

MARKETING

Once again, let’s acknowledge the fact that a wearable device is, by itself, a computing device connected to the Internet. It is therefore a vital platform for advertisers and marketers to pitch their products forth.

Take for instance the patent granted to Google for ‘pay per gaze advertising’. This mode of advertising – which quite literally throws an ad in the user’s face – would be quite advantageous.

The Advertiser : would get a complete guarantee of his/her advert reaching out to prospective customers.

The Developer : Ad revenues would be an added source of monetization.

The User : It might actually reduce the price of the wearable itself. (Analogous to ‘ads in a newspaper reduce the price of the newspaper’)

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(Source: Ogilvy and Mather)

SOCIAL CONNECTIVITY

Having a wearable would not only ensure you get updates from your social networks on the fly, it would also ensure that you can update your social networks faster too. Taking the Google Glass into perspective, it is insanely easy to update your Facebook and Twitter channels directly from your Glass, and with the added ease in recording videos, it would also imply YouTube getting more content!

HEALTHCARE

Now on a more serious note, wearables can have powerful impacts in the healthcare sector too. There are quite a lot of noteworthy examples to quote, and I’ll be elaborating upon them here.

1. UNICEF’s Innovation Unit has actually listed out how wearable technology can empower practitioners and patients. Contextual technology can be applied to wearables to quickly gather information and generate appropriate results which would be beneficial to both the doctor and the patient.

2. Wristify – an innovative wearable band developed by MIT Engineering students – is a thermoelectric bracelet that directs pulses of hot or cold waveforms at its wearer’s wrist to help them maintain a comfortable body temperature.

3. Various wearable devices are already available which take into account your blood pressure and heart rate and accordingly suggest changes you might want to make in your diet.

All in all, as far as healthcare is concerned, a right mix of contextual learning, intelligent devices and wearable technology would prove extremely conducive to combating diseases and patient recovery.

FITNESS

Mainstream wearables today are capable of tracking your steps and the miles you’ve covered during a run, but the scope can be extended much further.

Take for example Sensoria, which has developed sensor embedded socks which prevent injuries before they happen. It takes into account the person’s physique, weight and daily activities. More importantly, it records your running styles, judges it and warns you when you have a poor running style.

Or, the LUMOBack. A position sensor which is a wearable worn around the waist, it buzzes when the user slouches. Perfect for people who work long office hours, or even drivers who might get drowsy while driving!

SECURITY

As useful (and universal) are passwords and identity cards, they come with disadvantages of being stolen and misused easily. Enter wearable tech, which can expedite the user verification process by linking users to their various devices. This would in turn increase privacy and better security controls.

AUGMENTED SENSORY PERCEPTION

Saving my personal favourite for the last, here’s where wearables bridge the gap between ‘accessory on a body part’ to ‘a body part’. What looks like technology worthy of a sci-fi movie can now be practically realized.

Take for instance zoomable contact lenses, which could assist those with degenerative eye conditions. Or glasses with hearing aids, which make use of bone conduction for those who have auditory impairments. Yes, cyborg appendages could actually make life much better for physically disabled humans.

DON’T TAKE IT TOO FAR, THOUGH!

While wearables might be the next big thing in the tech world, we wouldn’t get overly involved. Key symptoms include interacting more with the wearable, rather than the actual environment. And this is undoubtedly irritating in public spaces.

Case in point being Google Glass users – while Google calls them ‘Explorers’, infuriated citizens around these users refer to them as ‘Glassholes’! All in all, too much of anything isn’t great, and one must exercise prudence while being involved with a wearable.

LONG STORY SHORT

Not many people had envisioned mobile phones to revolutionize the way we interact with our environment. But yes, it has become a reality, and with the backing of contextual technology, smart phones are going to become truly intelligent.

Likewise, wearables too have immense potential. What was once a nascent concept not so long ago is now blooming to become one of the most popular and rapidly growing markets out there. And with the rapid growth of wearable technology, the future looks extremely bright, as far as interconnectivity and availability of information is concerned!

Nivedit Majumdar

An analyst for the Emberify blog, Nivedit is a technophile and a blogger. He likes to observe new technology trends and write about them. Know more: about.me/niveditm

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