There could be wearables for everyone. Far from being fancy gadgets made to impress coworkers and friends, the smartwatch and all wearable technology seem destined to build a solid market, possibly taking a large share from smartphones and tablets.
While companies are still trying to figure out how to include them into their mobile marketing strategy, smart watches, glasses and wristbands are already reshaping the customer journey. And that’s just the beginning: even more disruptive wearables may come very soon.
The adoption rate is somewhat incredible, if you think about it: according to the most recent forecast data from the International Data Corporation (IDC), vendors will ship a total of 45.7 million units in 2015 (133.4% more than 2014). By 2019, that number is projected to reach 126.1 million units.
Right now, the smartwatch and health & fitness trackers lead the way, accounting for about 80% of the total market. But there’s more than meets the eye: many leading-edge projects are on their way to bring different concepts of wearable tech to life. Some may fail but others may change our life.
The new generation of wearables will surely solve the main problem that affected the perception of the first models. That is: prices considered too high, with customers not really understanding how this technology might really benefit them.
Google Glass, Oculus Rift, the first Apple Watch: amazing pieces of innovation, infinite potential, but why should I spend all my money on them? No more than one year ago, numbers recounted of a 30% return rate and even higher product abandonment after six months.
Now we are all starting to understand the real distinctive value. Once again we need to say thank you to Apple WWDC and Google I/O, both focused on the smartwatch. Equipped with powerful operating systems and designed to meet fashion, Apple Watch and Android Wear have injected a new lifeblood into the market, responding to the ‘lack of functionalities and style’ issue.
As it happens frequently, however, the adoption rate shows a gap between users and companies. Following the success of activity & fitness trackers, wearables have soon become part of customers’ life, mostly used to fulfill their need for:
Connected self: since the Internet came out of our houses, mobile devices have become extensions of our body, the first reference when we need information.
Quantified self: now that we disseminate our identity throughout the web, we want to use those data to analyze our life and perfect our existence.
On the other side of the coin we find brands, desperately looking for new ways to engage connected customers but still struggling to include wearables into their customer experience strategy.
In the age of the mobile mind shift, they sense that wearable technology is perfect to deliver proximity marketing contents, but how? While they ponder, it’s already clear that the introduction of innovative products is expected to significantly influence business interest in smart wearables.
What qualities the wearable of the future will have to have? In a recent article about this topic, Wired has drawn attention to the following elements:
Invisible: components will get smaller and integrated with garments.
Personalized: brands will focus on a personalized approach to wearables.
Accurate: in the era of Big Data, tracking will become more and more precise.
Efficient: powerful technology will require energy-saving power supply.
Respectful: privacy of data collected will become critical for customers’ acceptance.
Sentient: wearables will need to evolve and grow as customers evolve and grow.
Inter-connected: all technology we wear will communicate and fully integrate.
Seamless: wearables and the Internet of Things will become one amazing world.
All researches indicate consumer electronics and healthcare segments as the major growth areas but, thanks to integrations and unique features (GPS, monitoring, sensors), they will easily find applications in diverse industries including fashion, defense and sports. Even luxury brands will need to respond to the new trend, with exclusive wearable pieces to lure the high income customers.
And the market is also rapidly clearing up a further misunderstanding: wearables means more than just sports watches and wellness wristbands - popularized by Jawbone Up in 2011. All around the net we find imaginative speculations about what will happen next in this potentially disruptive industry.
The army, obviously, is at the forefront of this revolution. Let's see how customer experience will change in the near future.
Gartner believes that the area with the greatest potential for growth is the smart garment category, forecast to increase from 0.1 million units sold in 2014 to 26 million units in 2016. Many designers and tech start-ups already focus their efforts on the fashion side of the wearables: smart socks, trackable accessories, weather-sensitive clothes, solar powered hi-tech dresses, LED bags. You will really wear your style.
Wearables could soon lead us all toward a better life. Not by coincidence, right now investors open their wallet more willingly when wearable tech is adopted in the wellness and healthcare industries. Easy to understand why: fitness is today the main framework for applied wearables (trackers but also smart clothes); healthcare, on the other hand, is an open market with millions at stake, mostly from public investments. Apple's HealthKit is just the tip of a profitable iceberg.
Soon we will remember the Wiimote as a relic from the past. The new frontier for videogames is called 'total immersion'. When the joypad is not enough, you need something more to feel the game. Virtual reality - think about Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift - is just one possibility. Wearables could have a double effect: bring videogame design into the real world (i.e. Microsoft Hololens) and bring people into the virtual world they are playing (i.e. Disney Playmation).
Wearable tech is a fascinating field to study, and is still premature to predict what features or shapes will prevail in the future. For the very first time computing is small enough to be worn or even dressed, and surely there are marketing opportunities out there we don’t even imagine right now.
What we know is that the customer journey as we experience it today will probably become outdated. Brands will have to rebuild it from scratch, starting from our wrist, head, eyes and body.
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