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Is Wearable Technology for Real, Really? Here Are Some Answers for 2014
Wearable Tech World Feature Article
January 01, 2014

Is Wearable Technology for Real, Really? Here Are Some Answers for 2014

By Tony Rizzo
TMCnet Senior Editor

Several weeks ago, TMC (News - Alert) held its West Coast Wearable Tech Conference and Expo in Los Angeles. It was packed with attendees keenly interested in the business of wearable tech, packed with companies looking for their ten minutes in the spotlight at our event Demo Forum and filled with amazing information across a wide range of wearable tech topics. The topics ranged from tomorrow's hardware drivers, to today's products, to cool manifestations of wearable tech in Hollywood. It was wide-ranging yet detailed enough to get all of our participants connected to each other and moving forward.

The short answer to our headline question based on our conference: a resounding YES!

Our wearable tech (WT) conference isn't simply about talking up wearable tech at 20,000 feet. All of 2013 was filled with such 20,000 foot "stuff" - it ranged from WT being nothing more than a fad to WT being the next big thing. We love it when pundits get on the bandwagon about emerging tech market segments (suddenly there is a vast collection of WT experts in our midst and they offer up the same old recycled "tech talk"), from enthusiastic hype to total disillusionment diatribes, the views rendered are as predictable as knowing that New Year's Day comes on January 1st every year.

It is important to understand that the wearable tech media is now in this exact state of existence. That is why we have dived deep into the wearable tech industry from the side of life that lives and breathes this stuff: from the tiny companies on the cutting edge of wearable tech product creation (e.g. Hexoskin, Misfit Wearables, Sensoplex, Revolutionary Tracker, Pivothead) to the emerging collection of mid-range players (e.g. Freescale, Plantronics, Jawbone, Vuzix) to the giants (e.g. Qualcomm, Intel).

All of these vendors will play different and critical roles in the establishment of WT as a next major tech industry market segment. (You may note we left out the most obvious WT players - among them Samsung, Apple and Google (News - Alert) - but they hardly need any more words written about them at this particular moment, especially Google Glass, which is just about the most hyped product that the fewest number of people have ever actually seen or understand on planet Earth.) Their collective voices are critical to understanding how the WT industry will shape itself into such a market.

The Hexcoskin boys show off their body shirt activity tracker.

Regardless of the pundit hype, WT is still nothing more than a nascent market today - but it is one we ourselves believe can become the next $50 billion tech market. We admit it is thrilling to be a part of it at this stage of the game - when so much is still completely in flux and so much is yet to be discovered about what is possible and about what both consumer and enterprise users will actually end up using from a mainstream perspective.

To truly know and understand where this industry is headed you need to be part of the intimate conversations that take place between the myriad companies that are in play in WT (the above mentioned companies are but a very few examples of these players) and all of the people that are looking to drive WT businesses forward. That is the bottom line goal for the WT conferences I spend crazy six-month cycles planning and putting together for our two yearly wearable tech events (as well as for its sister FAST (Fitness and Sports Tech) conference). Putting the specific conference agenda programs together and issuing the invites for the specific collections of speakers I assemble for each event requires ongoing conversations with all industry players at every level we've noted above.

Insiders Connecting with Insiders

Did you know that the venerable Philippe Kahn is a person deeply involved in the wearable tech space? Surprised?  So were we, as absolutely no one in 2013 has ever mentioned it. Yet he is, and he brings a hugely valuable and fascinating multiple-decade tech perspective to the WT market. Philippe is at once a tech historian (who has made his own history in three separate tech spaces - including inventing the camera technology that sits in your smartphone) and a WT futurist. But he is a WT futurist with real skin in the game, and he is already making a significant impact on his fourth tech segment! That is why I invited him to be our opening day keynote speaker - and Philippe delivered on key insights.

We'll let you in on a little secret: In addition to Philippe's keynote, our team videoed roughly half of the sessions from our Los Angeles event. What this means is that you can spend some quality time with those same insiders we've been speaking with for the last six months. No need for us to revisit the sessions with words.

For us "the key measure of success" for our events is the level - and value - of interactions created between our speakers, our sponsors, our exhibiters and our attendees. We are all about building the business of wearable tech, not merely talking about it. This endeavor leaves us necessarily needing to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate our own sense of whether or not there is a reality to the future of wearable tech.

From our ground floor perspective (by which we mean not only our own but the collective perspectives of the conference) we are indeed witnessing the beginnings of a dynamic market with nothing but hockey stick curve growth ahead of it. And this market will be infused by every possible market segment - from consumer to enterprise, from pure tech to pure fashion, and from complete whimsy to serious medical and health capabilities.

Wearable Tech in 2014

Smartwatch makers are coming out of the woodwork in all shapes and sizes. Apart from Apple (News - Alert), which will launch an iWatch if and only if it feels comfortable that it can also deliver an ecosystem around it that goes beyond simply providing a second smartphone screen and related smartphone functionality, we will see smartwatches emerge in all shapes and sizes. Many of these emerging companies will find themselves boxed in with nowhere to really go, though keep an eye out on VEA-Design and its Buddy Watch (launching at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show - CES (News - Alert) - in a few days).

We suspect Samsung and Sony (both of them with new Android-driven versions of their current watches launching either at CES or the upcoming Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) in February 2014) will be similarly boxed in, with smartwatches that most of us are likely not to consider all that necessary. Samsung will likely show off an entirely new generation of flexible screens, one of which may find its way to a smartwatch. But, flexible screens within the context of overall mobile devices is the big news here; any wearable tech derivatives will be incidental. LG gets our vote as most likely to show a truly flexible screen smartwatch (albeit most likely as a concept).

Meanwhile, the device that most clearly defines wearable tech for consumers at this point in time - the fitness activity tracker - will begin to find itself arriving at a crossroads of sorts. Yes, we will see an explosion of these devices at CES, but we have to ask ourselves: What more can these things do, and how many people out there really care? Will 2014 represent the pinnacle for casual activity tracker devices? We ourselves suspect this may be the case. For ideas on where this market might go next keep an eye out on what Misfit Wearables is up to.

For the more serious fitness buffs among us, smart clothing may be the better way to go to track and monitor fitness activity. Clothing+, Hexoskin and the emerging OMSignal are companies to watch in this space in 2014. For runners of course there is the new adidas Smart Run watch (yes, it tells the time but it isn't a smartwatch - it is a serious training tool).

Google Glass will ship in 2014. Most likely we'll see it emerge as a ready to ship product at this year's Google I/O conference. We're of two minds with Google Glass. No doubt once it ships a lot of people will buy it. But we're also convinced that for most people who do buy it, it will in short order simply become their next great shelf ornament. Pivothead and Vuzix on the other hand may very well be on the right track to more useful smart glasses devices - especially within the enterprise (but keep in mind that a football team is an enterprise - we're not simply talking about evolving the shop floor).

Look for wearable tech to become huge in the medical and professional healthcare industries in 2014. Here both Google Glass and Epson America (with its Moverio smart glasses) are already making inroads and working with healthcare providers to create truly industry-changing technology. As opposed to much consumer WT that still qualifies as "nice to have," the healthcare industry is transforming WT into "critical to have."

Those WT companies looking to the enterprise and healthcare, of course, will be able to demand top dollar for their products. The value and productivity that WT brings to these environments is quite high, and prices will reflect this. Vuzix, for example, can demand $999 for its M100s when positioned for enterprise use. In the consumer space, they likely wouldn't sell for anything more than $299 (a cost point we anticipate Google Glass eventually dropping to). Interestingly, today, as we write, news is out that Google is now about to begin selling the latest version of Glass to certain subscribers of its All Access music subscription service. All well and good, but the display glasses are still priced at $1,500 - a foolish expense for essentially any non-developer.

Although not something you will see at CES - but definitely something you will see at our Wearable Tech Conference (see below), the entertainment industry is heavily moving into wearable tech. Yes, Mr. Wink (on the left) and Johan from Hellboy II are wearable technology of the Hollywood sort! Check out our conference entertainment panel video for more on this. One of our conference sponsors and several of our entertainment presenters made a very useful connection at the event: This is what we mean by living on the ground floor of where the WT industry is happening and why anyone involved in WT needs to be part of our WT events.

Mr. Wink and Johan are all about wearable tech!

Finally, we and others have spoken quite a bit about the issue of fashion and how it will become intimately related with WT. This will become very real in 2014. The former CEO of Burberry and the former head designer of Yve St. Laurent are at Apple now? Yes. Apple will lead the way. Yes, fashion will become front and center with WT in 2014. Tech-inspired design is not what we mean by WT fashion - we mean to refer to true fashion, as in coming from the fashion industry. For more fashion insights check out our conference fashion presentation video.

There are numerous and myriad directions WT will head in 2014. 2013 has been nothing more than a prelude to what WT will bring us in the New Year. If you are in the WT business, want to be in the business or are now moving to develop business relationships with those who already are, we look forward to seeing you in New York City July 23rd and 24th, when our next WT conference and Expo takes place. 2014 promises to be a hell of a WT year.

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