Wearable Tech – It’s Coming

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How many of you out there had a calculator wrist watch back in the 80s?  Get your hands up – I see you looking away from the monitor.  I had one.  So did enough kids in my class that I remember math teachers having to confiscate them before a quiz.  It was the first time that wearable technology crossed over into the mainstream.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the fad didn’t stick.  I guess the convenience of being able to quickly determine the square root of 4,052,169 (keep reading – answer is below) didn’t outweigh the small keys, bulky nature and overall geeky-ness (before geeky-ness was cool) of having one.

History always repeats itself, they say, and we’re about to become deluged with wearable technology once again.  If you don’t know about Google Glass yet, you will soon.  The lightweight glasses are designed to be both unobtrusive and easy to use.  But, put on a pair and you’ll definitely stand out in a crowd.  If you think the guy talking to himself in the corner (on a bluetooth headset) is annoying, just wait until you try to have a conversation with someone staring into space while reading a website.  I have seen some great uses for Google Glass, including Cal Ripken using it as a teaching tool.  But it’s still not subtle, and the next time I sit down with someone wearing them, I’m sure I’ll be wondering if our conversation is being broadcast over the internet or recorded in a way that may make me uncomfortable.  (Then again, I’m the guy in the room with a smartpen.)

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Google Glass is just one example of wearable tech.  Every tech company from Apple to Samsung is working on their own wearable tech.  Nike has a number of products already on the market.  (And let me plug my friends at Milestone Pod while I’m at it.)  But what seems to be missing still is a killer app – something that wearable tech does that takes it from curious to must-have. 

This MediaPost article speaks to just that issue.  There’s just nothing yet that’s so compelling that it generates the buzz and purchase  required from early adopters that increases the supply chain and decreases the retail cost so that a product can transition into the mainstream.  I was one of the first people I knew with an MP3 player.  Being able to take 12 songs with me was great, but it wasn’t until Apple figured out how to package up 1,000 songs in an affordable device that it really took off.  Same thing with Tivo – DVRs didn’t make it until cable companies figured out they could just throw another $10 onto our monthly bill instead of requiring an investment into a $300 piece of equipment.   And it’s probably what doomed the calculator watch – it’s nice to be able to figure out an exact 15% tip quickly, but it’s nothing that we absolutely had to have.

Time will tell what gets us all to wear Google Glass, and how our lives will change from that moment.  I famously said I didn’t need a DVR, or an iPad, or a Slingbox, or a remote keyless entry for my car.  Yet, each of those things changed the way I operate significantly, and I can’t imagine going backwards.  So, I’m sure at some point my smartpen will go back to the Island of Misfit Technology and I’ll come into meetings wearing my Google Glass instead.

(Oh, and the answer to the square root of 4,052,169 – 2013 of course!)

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