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I’m incredibly excited about the rising popularity of wearable tech. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen the the Internet become a household tool, the rise of laptops, cellphones, smartphones, tablets, etc. A mere decade ago, nobody could have imagined the pervasive sweeping changes that were to take place. We can now take pictures and videos, post them online, send them to friends, and consume content all on a single device that fits in our pockets. It’s a significant paradigm shift because the web has become personal, technologies have become personal.
I remember growing up with a single computer in the house (it wasn’t that long ago), but the average US household now has 5.7 web-enabled devices (source). According to the most recent Census data, the U.S. averages 2.61 people per household (source). That means the average US citizen may have 2-3 web devices. This means users expect high levels of customization. They expect a personal experience. The point is that the paradigm has changed so drastically over a short 10 years, that it’s almost impossible to predict what the next shift will be.
From the growing range of products we’re seeing, I think wearable tech will be the next big thing. But it’s dangerous to think of it as merely a computer on your wrist. Technically it is, but what defines the tool is really the behavior, the things people want to do with it. We’re already seeing a diversified range of products that cater to healthcare, fitness, family safety, outdoor activities, to even something as simple as a watch. Check out Amazon for a quick glance at what’s already available.
We’re definitely in the exploration phase of this technology. Nobody is really certain how popular or unpopular these devices may become. The manufacturers’ intended function may not at all turn out to be the most valuable feature. Just look at smartphones! Making calls is now the 5th most popular use…for a phone! Source: techradar.com (http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/making-calls-fifth-most-popular-use-for-smartphones-says-report-1087623)
The possibilities really are endless. But now for the real question: how can I leverage this new technology in my marketing efforts? Honestly, unless you’re in healthcare, fitness, or you’re Google or Amazon, there may not be an immediate application. Once the market takes shape and these devices start to mature, sophisticated marketing efforts can come into play. That being said, there is something to be said for being a first mover in this space. But how can we possibly make any sort of commitment to a technology that hasn’t matured?
That’s a good question: one which I’ll attempt to answer. Throughout the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of device specialization and convergence. First there were laptops, which offered mobility at a significantly reduced performance. Then performance improved and they began to replace desktops for a lot of people. We also saw cameras converge with phones. Phones too offered greater mobility but at an even further reduced performance and connection speed, but now the latest and greatest sport quad core processors (faster than my last laptop!). We also netbooks rise and fade away. They offered more mobility but the trade off in capability was too much. Then we saw tablets, and for some, tablets began to replace laptops (if you bought the attachable keyboard). Now Microsoft is on a laptop/tablet spree, launching the Surface. The Windows 8 interface is beginning to blur the lines between mobile and desktop as well (admittedly, I didn’t like the whole live tile thing at first, now I just tolerate it). There are also phablets (big-freakin phones) like Samsung’s Note line of products. Tablet sizes range from over 10 inches to just below 7, phones range from 3.5 to 5 inches. Throw a few glorified e-readers into the mix, and you’ve got an array of products that pretty much do the same thing. This is what I mean by specialization and convergence. Each device class is specializing into a functional niche, while the capabilities are converging. Sure I can type up a Google doc on my phone, but what a pain that is. Instead, I’ll create content on a desktop or laptop, and consume or tweak it on a phone or tablet. I’ll capture a moment on my phone, but then I’ll edit it on my laptop. I might show it to family and friends on my tablet.
So how does all that answer your question? The point is to look at the functional-niche each device can/may serve. Will a person really peruse a site with Google Glass? Probably not, but they may be looking for some quick info, like a review or directions. The trick here is the input mechanism is different (no virtualized keyboard, like on a phone). What information might someone using wearable tech want and how can we serve it up given their hardware limitations?
Google’s support site has a brief write up on browsing the web with Glass (which you can extrapolate for any wearable tech), that basically says Glass is meant for “micro-interactions, not for staring into the screen, watching Friday night marathons or reading ‘War and Peace.’” (source) So what type of information might someone want on their watch? Maybe they’ll want to browse an image catalog and pin your images, or share them. There’s no right answer to any of it, but now is the perfect opportunity to shape the market. That’s what’s so exciting to me about wearable tech. What new uses and behaviors will emerge over the next few years? How will the way we create, consume, and share content change in the next 10 years? As soon as Google drops the price of Glass below $1,500, I’m sure we’ll be on our way to finding that out.