One of the most visible forms of the Internet of Things, at least from a consumer’s perspective, is the advent of wearables, a term for wearable computing devices. The full range of this new form factor for mobile devices is very wide and I would like to define wearables as electronic systems located on the body that mediate their user and their environment. From activity trackers like FitBit and Up by JawBone and other quantified self applications, to more advanced information devices like Google Glass and Samsung Smartgear, these first generation devices are always on and always connected. Next generation devices will also be contextual and intelligent thanks to the Internet of Everything’s convergence of people, devices, data and the web.
Computing devices have moved from our desktop to our lap, to our pocket and now onto our body. Technology has never been this personal, however, we are far from the wearables endgame. For wearables to truly become a useful addition to our already technology-filled lives, we need to get back to the basics. Here’s a brief look at three ways we can evolve wearables by thinking about the technology itself, our interaction with these devices and the value they should offer.
1. The underlying technologies need to get better
Wearables are by nature just another hardware device or more specifically, just another connected mobile device that takes on a different shape compared to the smartphone. Therefore, wearables are really dependent on their underlying technologies to get better. Advances in inertial sensors, touch and in-air gesture control, gaze control for eyeglasses, speech recognition or natural language processing and more advanced, predictive data analytics are just some examples of what’s possible.
As the Internet of Everything drives more connections, predictive data analytics is an important part to making wearable devices more intelligent. And if wearables can speak our language or predict our behavior, they can be of much more help to us, especially since all currently conceivable wearable devices involve limited screen space. With no space for haptic input, we need to be able to have a ‘conversation’ with these devices. Voice and artificial intelligence together should be the main ingredients for wearable computing, and as of now, they are not yet advanced enough.
2. Context is key in getting personal
Wearables appeal to the idea of human-centric design, but what we need to aim for is human needs-centric interaction. For now, it has mostly been shifting notifications over to another screen. If wearable computers like Google Glass mostly boil down to another notification platform, I don’t believe that would make much sense. Users have a personal hierarchy of what kind of information is important. I don’t need a push notification of a tweet if I’m trying to catch a train; I need to know how much time I have left. It would be even better if my wearable calculated distance to walking speed that tells me if I need to walk faster to catch the train. Real time must become the right time.
For a glimpse of how contextual information-interaction might work, just look at Google Now. It’s still in its early stages, but is already impressive. It uses my data to get to know my context. For example, it calculates my ideal travel schedule based on my agenda and sends up soccer scores Google knows I’m interested in without me asking.
With advancement in sensors, the ever-growing amount of data in our ‘personal’ cloud, wearable devices have the potential to be so contextual. There are dozens of useful applications to be made. But we have to stop replacing the smartphone. Instead, we need to make something better.
3. Think services, not devices
With the explosion of new types of data, better personalization practices and more contextual ways to interact with information, the opportunity to create better and new services is here. We need to start thinking about smart functionality not only in terms of devices, but in terms of service.
It’s one thing that a wristband can track your activity, but it becomes a smart service if it offers you better advice on increasing your health or creates highly personal fitness regimes. It’s also one thing if a smart watch can display how many messages you received, but it becomes a smart service if it can prioritize those messages for you and highlight what you need to know based on your context. The hybrid of mobile, social, personal and analytics technologies can offer anyone a more anticipatory and intelligent relationship with their devices. But value and great services are not created in devices, but in the systems in which they exist. In the end it’s not so much about smart things and devices, but about smarter services and people.