Like the Internet of Things and commercial drone technology, the burgeoning wearable tech sector is an industry born of the Digital Age. Ubiquitous Internet connectivity shifts wearable tech from the dizzy realm of speculative fiction and the futurist world of avant-garde designer fashion and makes it both a tangible reality and a decent business proposition. Now the race is on to find new applications and material innovations for so-called smart fabrics. In a world of fitness trackers and personalised health monitoring, what are the current trends of this emergent technology and where is it headed in future?
The second wave of the smartwatch revolution
Expectations were high when Apple announced the Apple Watch, now on its 2nd product generation and 3rd watchOS, and although the excitement has abated somewhat since the original device was launched in April 2015, there may be a new surge of customer interest on the way, as game developers properly get to grips with the necessary and inherent design limitations of smart watch technologies. Increasingly, the choice of games available on the various platforms is expanding. In many ways, this is a welcome return to a gaming philosophy of the past, when 8-bit memory and concomitant processing restrictions on home computing entailed keeping software as streamlined and minimalist as possible in order to deliver an enjoyable gaming experience.
There was simply no room for bloatware on an old Commodore 64. And such again is the case today, even more so for smartwatch software than for mobile apps. The new generation of smartwatch game apps prioritise playability over graphics and are growing more inventive as a result. From Castle Wear on the Apple Watch 2, to a retro-skinned version of Asteroids coded for the Pebble, and now a slot game called Thunderstruck tailored to smartwatch play, a diverse and inventive market in smartwatch games is firming up nicely. What’s more impressive is that Thunderstruck is a full-featured slot, available on major online casinos such as Betway Casino, and offering 5 reels and 9 paylines of a Nordic god theme. The aforementioned Castle Wear, on the other hand, despite its simple title is a cunningly compressed RPG adventure and being able to run it on a piece of wearable tech is simply impressive.
And though sales of smartwatches per se might be lower than anticipated at a certain Cupertino campus, as customers fail to adopt a device that still has to be tethered to a
smartphone in order to operate at full effectiveness, the more single-minded fitness tracker sector is booming. ‘Keep it simple and don’t try to do everything at once’ would appear to be the lesson to be learned here, and those companies that have elected to do just that have already prospered accordingly.
Wearable tech round-up – the best of the best fitness trackers
Which fitness tracker or smartwatch is best for you is a personal decision, based on a clutch of individual factors. How often do you visit the gym? Do you run, or prefer swimming? How much are you prepared to spend on a device that matches your particular requirements? And there’s a fashion angle too. For wearable tech to look wearable it has to look cool, and cool is a very subjective term.
Should you equate a modern smartwatch with a contemporary mid-price clockwork wristpiece, then your gaze will most likely be drawn to the Apple Watch, a device firmly positioned at the higher end of stylish and trying gamely to carve a mid-range niche of its own against more established names in the watchmaking business. Prices vary according to spec in the inimitable Apple way, with entry models coming in at around the $349 mark, but a fashion-conscious consumer could end up parting with over $10,000 for the rare 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, which puts the Apple device up there with the likes of Rolex and Hamilton. It is estimated that Apple sold 12 million units in 2015, accounting for around two-thirds of all smartwatch sales for that year.
More affordable options exist however, for those with less disposable income to throw around on a fully-fledged smartwatch.
Fitbit supply a wide spectrum of fitness trackers, in a series of attractive and ergonomic designs. These range from basic heart-monitoring wristbands to more sophisticated devices like the Fitbit Surge or Fitbit Alta HR that delivers phone notification features and can offer auto sleep tracking and other goodies.
Pebble too have a versatile range of sleek devices to choose from, and other notable electronics manufacturers rubbing shoulders in this fresh field of opportunity include Samsung, Garmin, and Sony. There should be something for every taste, so shop around and cut your cloth to measure.
The Shape of Future Things
June sees a major conference on Wearable Tech trends, Wear 2017, staged in San Francisco, CA. The two-day event includes a talk by Dan Ledger, founder of Boston-based Path Collaborative, a connected health and wearables advisory firm. Titled ‘The Future of Wearable Tech and Smart Fabrics’, the talk seems to already be an indication of where the future seems most likely to lie. As digital components reduce in size, smart clothing and smart textiles get closer to becoming everyday reach. Sensors embedded in clothing can flex with the body and track vital health stats in realtime, and tethered to a mobile device, or linked in to the Internet of Things might yield huge potential benefits to the monitoring and regulating of personal health and dietary regimes. Bespoke health programs might be better tailored to the individual in question, to provide a dynamic feedback loop whereby each statistic can be charted accurately against its fellows.
Already the wearable tech sector is on track to be worth $34 billion by 2020 and research is piling in to find the next big breakthrough material or standout application for what is, after all, still a relatively young industry. As more innovators align to the intriguing possibilities of this most flexible of fields, that figure is only expected to rise. And as more companies jump on board, unit prices should stay competitive and affordable.
We are all of us at some level walking data sets, and with the processing power of modern chips combined with component miniaturisation to nano scales, sensors can be integrated into our very clothing and the environment that surrounds us to give us a picture of the living breathing whole as never before. Wearable tech could soon be the nerd’s second skin.