Jeremy works in PwC's Emerging & Digital Technologies team, helping drive some of the firm's more innovative ideas and propositions. He brings a start-up mindset to PwC and our clients.
Wearable tech capability has been around for some time, but it’s only in the last two years that we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of consumers buying and using these devices – according to PwC’s 2016 "The wearable Life: Connected Living in a Wearable World", the adoption has doubled since 2014, from 21% to 49%. It’s been fuelled, of course, by health and fitness applications like Fitbit, and that’s still the area where consumers see the most obvious benefits and companies the most immediate opportunities. 58% of the UK people we surveyed were after exercise information from their wearable device, followed closely by medical information at 56%.
Wearable use is going to rise, there’s no doubt about that, both for leisure and at work (according to the research firm Tractica, more than 75 million wearables will be worn in the workplace by 2020). And we’re also going to see it expand beyond health and fitness to other aspects of life. But there’s another trend at work, too, which is potentially just as powerful, and has significant implications for companies developing these products, and that’s the ‘fashion factor’.
As we all know, one reason Apple has become the world’s most valuable brand, is just that: it’s a brand. It’s built its success on the fact that people want to been seen to own an Apple product. It’s not just a phone, or a music system, or a tablet, it’s a personal statement. Now, that’s not to say functionality is secondary – far from it. Apple has only become this sort of powerbrand because it was also offering incredibly intuitive technology based on a relentless focus on its products’ user experience and, more importantly how intuitive and pleasant they are to use.
That’s why we see the fashion factor as one of two key ways wearable tech is likely to evolve. In this part of the market superb functionality will only get products to first base: it will be necessary, but not sufficient. The real differentiator will be aesthetic appeal: in other words, ‘Do I want to be seen wearing this?’ One of the top five reasons for buying a wearable device by those surveyed is that it ‘looks fashionable/cool’ 1. Science, in short, will give way to art. And this will be even more important to millennials, who already ‘expect technology to work’ in a way their parents never did, and demand devices that are simple, seamless, and sassy.
The high-profile failure of Google Glass proves how important appearances are. There were a number of reasons why the experiment failed – privacy concerns, intrusiveness, cost, hype – but one of the key reasons was perhaps simply that it didn’t look cool.
If high visibility is one trend, low (or no) visibility is the other. Wearable tech used to be a bit clunky, but we’re seeing more and more products which are designed to be completely integrated with an existing clothes or jewellery item. Vinaya’s Altrius watches and jewellery, for example, capture and filter your email and electronic communications, so you control what you receive. But you’d never know that just from looking at them.
The ultimately invisible wearable is, of course, the implant. Once the stuff of science fiction, implanted technology could have huge positive benefits, especially in areas such as monitoring the health of elderly people, or those with chronic health conditions. But the challenges are equally enormous. The cyber security issues with financial information and personal data pale into insignificance compared to the risks of exposing devices in our own body to hackers.
So to sum up, wearable tech is polarising. Moving front and centre in one respect, and fading into the background from another- such as the design factor. But either way, it’s here to stay.