In just over 12 months time, YouGov reckons one in 10 of the UK population will own some kind of wearable. That's more than 6 million people. By the end of 2016 that figure is expected to exceed 10 million, with the global market generating $11 billion in smart trackers, watches, rings, implants and other such life-enhancing gadgetry.
For a chap whose only watch is a £20 Argos-bought Casio, who before marrying had never owned a ring, who doesn't need glasses, and has zero interest in wearing a necklace, bracelet, smart earring or implant, you'd think I'd scoff at such overripe forecasts…
Not a chance.
Wearable tech promised to be interesting in 2014, and it was. It was the pet project of the big boys, and the cash target for kickstarters and tech investors. It didn't quite tip in to the mainstream despite the legions of Fitbit wearing exercise evangelists and the Jawbone-clad yoga enthusiasts – but it's not far off.
The wearable stalwarts (all right – those who've been around for the last few years at least) are upping their product cycles in order to maintain their market share. But they're also conscious of the need to create gadgets that are alluring and luxurious items regardless of the tech they pack.
The innovation game
At the moment I'd say the Pebble Steel and Moto 360 lead the charge here. The Pebble Steel in particular has the kind of everyday practicality balanced with innovation that brings my Jetsons-esque dreams a step closer. Its battery life, iOS and Android friendliness, and affordable price mark it out as a tipping-point contender. As a men's watch you can comfortably wear it to dinner or the office. You can even swim with it.
Jawbone's latest top line item, the UP3 comes hot on the heels of the Fitbit Surge "super watch". It offers dizzying new wearable heights in terms of raw processing power and features, and it too looks good enough to wear without it being a conversation topic (for a smartwatch which does just that, check out the Basis Carbon Steel edition). The fact that each of these items is desirable regardless of its functionality makes them more appealing.
If this all smacks of tipping point, then think of the consumer. There will be those of us who buy our wearables with aesthetic leaning – what style Apple Watch suits me? How should I customise my Pebble for wearing with a suit? Which smart earrings should I put on this evening?
Wearable tech is a vastly different proposition to traditional tech products. It's disruptive in the truest sense: if the biggest consumer draw of wearables has so far been the sport and fitness market, fashion and lifestyle will be its next advancement and health tracking will be its mainstream breakthrough. My dad's interested in Fitbit. He's 70 next year. He's interested in Fitbit because he's 70 next year. The grey pound is there for the taking and Microsoft, Google and Apple know this.
For the rest of us who have blood pressure that is yet to require regular monitoring, wearable tech is transitional. For now at least it's another way of receiving the data and connected functionality. And so I want products that say as much about my style and taste as they do about my data needs. The iPhone did this for smartphones and everything points towards the same thing happening with the Apple Watch.
Styling it out
With Ray Ban and Oakley working with Google Glass, I expect 2015 to be the year we see a few more temple tapping spec-wearers taking snaps on the street and asking Google where the nearest Starbucks is.
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg launched her spring 2013 fashion collection with models resplendent in Google Glass and Sergey Brin in the front row, and teamed up with Google to produce a range of chic frame options. I don't really want to see wearables as as the preserve of premium fashion labels, but for the time being (and given the price of DVF Google Glass) it makes sense. At present Glass is expensive – it is a costly pair of spectacles with highly advanced features.
I'm even less enthusiastic about wearing Google Glass that makes me look like a high fashionista than I am about a pair that make me look like I'm directing air traffic. As Glass gets more affordable, we'll see more of the Oakley and Ray Ban tie-ins and more high-street acceptance of wearable tech. When Boots offers Glass on its prescription lenses, and Top Shop stocks charging bracelets and emoti-necklaces, you'll know wearables is mass market.
If you own a piece of wearable tech it'll most probably be used to tell you how fast you've run, how far you've walked, or how many hours you've slept. At the moment a smartwatch is a thing on your wrist that talks to your phone. Soon wearables will service a need in their own right. By the time the 10 million people in the UK own a piece, I suspect things will be dramatically different, and we'll all be accessorised to the hilt with wearable tech.
- Tom Dennis is the editor of T3 magazine, your ultimate gadget guide. For just £19.49 you can enjoy both the print and interactive digital edition of the mag for six months – a massive saving of 62%. Click here for more details.
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