OPINION: 'Why wearables won’t work within silos'
Where have all the wearables gone? The next big thing hasn't sunk without a trace it's just waiting for a vital connection to happen, says Carat Senior Digital Executive, Jimmy Diamond.
This article originally appeared on Mumbrella.
It seemed only yesterday you couldn’t swing a cat (or a CAF – geddit?) in the media industry without hitting someone spruiking ‘wearable’ wares as the way of the future; the ‘next smartphone’; the new status quo.
That’s why I was surprised to make it all the way through an action-packed three days at Mumbrella360 recently without the words ‘wearable technology’ so much as rousing a mention, let alone warranting a dedicated keynote speaker or panel discussion.
So what happened: when did the tech trend set to transform the media landscape suddenly slip off the radar? Is it just a glitch, or have we unplugged from wearable tech trend?
To preface, I think it’s fair to say that thus far, wearables haven’t exactly delivered on the game-changing hype and mass uptake originally hypothesized. As a result, they are yet to establish themselves as a real and scalable consideration for brands.
That said, before we throw the Fitbit-wearing baby out with the bathwater, I am still a firm believer that wearables warrant the attention of any marketer looking to future proof our clients’ strategies.
Obviously wearable tech – and consumer uptake of it – is very much in its infancy. We are still witnessing its ‘experimental’ phase, where consumers work out where exactly it fits in their lives and how it adds value.
Consumer appetite is certainly there – there’s no question of that; however, sustained use by consumers and, perhaps even more tellingly, continued development by suppliers, seems to have faltered.
Here’s what I think is holding them back: providing insight without action.
Wearables have largely fallen into two buckets to date; those that collect information and data from consumers – the likes of Fitbit – and those that deliver it to them, such as Google Glass or the Apple Watch.
The siloed nature of this product development is really where wearables are falling short. The real value for consumers and, subsequently brands, is if the technology can merge the two together, using the data they gather to make a real-time, real-world impact on the lives of the wearer.
The Fitbit is a classic case of the wearable conundrum.
It’s great that consumers can accurately and easily track their steps, their heart rate, their sleep patterns – but then what? How is that data being used by the device to better inform and improve a consumer’s life? The answer: it’s not. It’s left up to the consumer to take that next step, and as it turns out, this is where their step count really starts to drop off.
As it turns out, wearables are facing the same challenge as every other media platform grappling with ‘big data’ – finding a way to interpret or ‘humanise’ it real time to deliver a better outcome or experience.
I believe the solution lies in one of the key trends discussed at Mumbrella360 – algorithms and artificial intelligence. When AI is applied to our wearable technology, the ability to analyse and action our own data immediately is well within our grasp.
Take this scenario for instance: your Fitbit could connect to your fridge to purchase low-salt margarine based on sodium level readings. Maybe it even communicates with your Virtual Personal Assistant PT to create a new gym regime because your heart-rate has reached a plateau level in previous workouts. This is when the Fitbit will become of more valuable proposition than ever been before.
Granted, there are challenges on the road ahead for wearables, the two most notable being:
The Rise / Return of Walled Ecosystems
The sole purpose of wearables is to seamlessly link up to cloud-based processing and storage to deliver great consumer experiences. ‘Seamlessness’, however, is a bit of a challenge in today’s complex and non-symbiotic ecosystem.
With the world controlled by a few large entities – Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFA) – all of which operate within their own environment or ‘walled garden’, each living by its own set of rules and lexicons, controlling and privatising its own data, the challenge for marketers and consumers alike is access. Easy access.
This has undoubtedly played a role in slowing the progression of wearable tech, as it is currently impossible to deliver on the promise of a truly seamless experience. Knocking down these walls would require a radical shift in how these entities interact with one another and with consumers.
The Slow Start of the ‘Internet of Things’
Wearables form a key-chain in the Internet of Things; they are connector of the ‘things’ to us.
While there is doubting that the Internet of Things has arrived, its entry to market hasn’t exactly been one of great confidence, arriving in bits and pieces and with constant redesigns which has limited uptake amongst consumers.
Ultimately, it’s not until the internet of things really becomes ‘a thing’ – when the personal data we collect everyday can connect with and feedback into our homes, our offices and our cars, to provide a convenient and valuable consumer experience – that wearable tech will be able to reach its full potential.
Until then, rather than write off wearables as ‘forgotten trend’, marketers should consider it a trend currently ‘treading water’ while the necessary infrastructure to support it is put in place. Once that’s in order, I have no doubt we’ll see wearables (finally) reach their full prophetic potential.