Are Wearable Devices Going To Upstage Smartphones?
It was circa 2014 and visitors to the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at Las Vegas were waxing eloquent about the onrush of wearable technology. It had moved from a mere buzz in 2013 to more concrete pieces of hardware. However, what delegates were seeking was an inflection point where they move beyond niche applications to something more mainstream.
Two years down the line, the debate continues. The naysayers are unanimous in their view that wearable gadgets can never replace the smartphone. The arguments that they used while taking this position was four-fold – (a) the technology isn’t smart enough yet, (b) technology may be there, but designers lack a sense of fashion (c) fitness apparatus aren’t really indicative of a larger market for the wearable, and (d) these devices aren’t as useful as they appeared initially.
Despite all these constant refrains, the wearable technology market has grown year-on-year. A report suggests that the size of this market could be worth over USD 30 billion by the turn of this decade (Read the report here). One crucial driver of this market that the authors of this research define is the growing popularity of Internet-of-Things (IoT).
There are other factors too. An obvious one is the desire among consumers for more and more sophistication in gadgets they use. Wearable devices on one’s wrist could be the game changer of the future via next-gen displays and higher level of integration at the software level with multiple devices. Of course, there is also increasing awareness of fitness levels that could inspire such devices from a medical point of view.
Skeptics believe that the technology limitations for wearable devices will make it tough for companies to overthrow smartphones. Besides being connected at the umbilical level with smartphones, these devices also have challenges with battery life and more importantly with usability design where only the geeks would prefer its use.
A report by Moor Insights and Strategy suggested that companies would need to view the wearable as a digital ecosystem device that are not ‘replacements for other devices” so that they resist the temptation of focusing on target users and specific use cases. Instead they need to work together with devices that people own and use regularly (Read the analysis here).
Looks like some of it is already happening now. Rumors are rife of the next iPhone getting rid of the audio jack. Right on cue, we hear about a new product called ‘Here One’ (in case you haven’t heard about it yet, click here). It is being advertised as ‘the world’s first in-ear computing’.
And, what magic does it work? Doppler Labs’, the company that pioneered the product, claims that these ear buds are more powerful than the vintage PC that might still be adorning your bedroom. It helps customize what you hear, can turn off background chatter and much more – all made possible by high-performance processing within the ear bud itself.
The company says that the ‘adaptive filtering technology’ does not just remove specific frequencies. It listens, records and identifies the noise or noises that, it feels, could hamper the quality of output that one is listening to primarily. So, technically, one can listen to a concert without having to listen to the cacophony at the venue.
If these ear buds work as they are supposed to (Doppler plans to deliver the first lot this November), one could assume that they would stay put in the user’s year, which means the speakers and earphones of a smartphone can be dumped.
Similarly, if one were to review the rise of virtual assistants and bots in recent times, the touchscreen could soon cease to exist. We already have notifications being read out to us through the wireless ear buds.
Then there is Haptics, the science of applying touch sensation and control for interacting with computer applications that could nudge us with varying degrees of vibrations meaning different things.
Though critics panned Google Class for its size and usability, one cannot rule out a reincarnation of the technology in ordinary looking glasses and shades, where a tap or a swipe could result in a photograph that gets stored on a device.
If all of the above become reality individually, the smartphones will continue to rule the roost. However, if these devices start talking to each other, then the scenario might sound the death knell of the smartphones, as we know them now. At best, they’d be a piece of hardware sitting cozily in our hipster while we use wearable technology to get things moving.
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