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It wasn’t too long ago when every techno blogger was writing about the newest wearable technology, perhaps predicting the next technology avalanche that would rival smart phones. The granddaddy of wearable technology was Google Glasses, which apparently was leading the revolution. Analysts were predicting a mega industry upheaval.
Then Google Glasses crashed and burned.
Today, most of the discussion around wearable technology is a little more cautious with some downright skepticism. We are seeing articles published now discussing why wearable products are failing or why wearable products will never take off.
In reality, wearable technology is still alive and well, and there are still a plethora of new products being introduced. But we are also seeing a plethora of product flops. However, this is very typical of new technology—lots of new products introduced and lots of failures. This is remarkably similar to every other technology revolution, except we are doing the failing and succeeding faster. People may not recall this but the PC revolution in the 1980s had several unsuccessful starts in the 1970s.
What are the winners so far? As of June 2015, there is nothing on the market that is really taking off, but there are some promising products. Most interesting is that probably the leading wearable technology products are smart watches. Nothing new about a wearable watch, and there are a couple of watches making an impression in 2015. One is the Pebble Steel which has the best battery life among watches. Other smart watch/activity trackers on the move are the Garmin Forerunner 15 and the Apple Smart Watch.
Another product in the fitness arena is the Fitbit Charge HR, which can track heart rate and distance. Basically, the majority of wearable technology products that are making noise in the marketplace are fitness products and smart watches. That is not to say that there is nothing else interesting coming, like the Skully Motorcycle Helmet, which is essentially Google Glasses for bikers.
What are some major flops? First and foremost the Google Glasses; it was the most talked about and hyped wearable product. It is what got everyone talking about wearable technology. But the sales faltered. Apparently no one really found a use for it or wanted it that badly. Another company took a stab at glasses and created the Meta Space Glasses, which essentially are a large pair of techie goggles that can replace your desktop computer and smart phone. Critics are lining up to pan this new offering; it is bulky and again, why would the everyday consumer want this product?
What are the biggest issues with wearable technology? Perhaps it is the fact that the charge is being led by technology geeks and not marketers. A marketer finds a need, and then works to develop an effective solution. A technology geek creates a product then tries to find problems it can solve. As a result we are seeing a lot of innovative products, with very little consumer interest. Many of these wearable technology products are also requiring consumer behavior change or doing things they didn’t have to do or want to do.
Let’s contrast that to the smartphone phenomenon. Before there was a smartphone, we had a cellphone. People were using phones. The smartphone technology did not ask someone to carry a device around that they did not carry before; they already were using cellphones. The smartphone just expanded to help consumers out with things that they were doing or had to do, such as find restaurants or check the weather, etc. Some of the wearable products today are asking consumers to do things that they aren’t used to doing. It seems many technologists are trying to create needs rather than find and exploit needs. And this begs the question, if you build it, they will come?
Wearable technology is in its infancy. The industry needs to mature and go back to basic marketing—finding a need and filling it.
Flexible circuits have been around since the mid-1960s and have been successfully filling needs. Flexible circuits are ideal for wearable technology because they are thin and lightweight. As the marketing matures, the applications will come and flexible circuits will be there to fill the technical needs.
Dave Becker is vice president of sales and marketing at All Flex Flexible Circuits LLC.