Wearable technology. It's an exploding product category in desperate need of a category-defining product. And now, with the Consumer Electronics Show upon us, we get to see whether some company, any company, can release an uncompromised, mainstream consumer hit in 2014.
Manufacturers have unleashed a torrent of ambitious but confounding wearables over the last two years—perhaps you've heard of Samsung's beta-like Galaxy Gear, or Google's alpha-in-everything-but-name-only Google Glass? At CES 2014 in Las Vegas next week, many more companies will attempt to realize the unfulfilled promises of smartwatches, smart eyewear, and, yes, even wrist-worn activity trackers, because apparently we can never have enough of those.
The scent of freshly forged wearables will pervade most of CES, but the highest concentration will hover over a new TechZone area called WristRevolution. Ten smartwatch manufacturers--including Burg Limited, Cookoo, Sonostar, Kronoz, Metawatch, and Neptune Pine--will stake a claim to your human body part that's most ripe for exploration.
Do any of these names sound familiar? Indeed. And that's what scares me about the incoming class of smartwatches, if not all wearables: If industry heavyweights like Samsung and Sony can't figure out mini-computers that strap to our wrists, then how can we expect success from a no-name Hong Kong brand like Cookoo, or even Kronoz with its fancy Swiss pedigree? And then there's Burg Limited. Look at the image on the left. Is this smartwatch marketing or a Saturday Night Live sketch?
At least Qualcomm--a name so big it has its own sports stadium--will also have a presence in the WristRevolution pavillion, presumably showing off its already released Toq smartwatch. And it looks like Epson, another proud consumer electronics warhorse, will demo new wrist and smartglass wearables at this year's CES. "Epson was one of the first companies to launch smart glasses back in 2012," says Anna Jen, Epson's director or New Ventures/New Products. "Based on input from our development community, we'll be launching our next-generation Moverio smart glasses in 2014."
The hope behind the hype
I'm overcome with a mixture of excitement and dread over what awaits my wearable-curious anatomy in Las Vegas.
Wearable tech clearly has legs, and is projected to grow into a $19 billion market in the next four years, with consumer spending ballooning by more than 1200 percent by 2018. And my general feelings for wearables are warm and supportive. I'm jazzed by the prospect of strapping sensors and microchips to my temples and wrists. It's just so irresistibly gadgety.
Still, aside from a small collection of fitness products, currently available wearable offerings are difficult to use and aesthetically challenged. They confuse users (I'm looking at you, smartwatches). They elicit contemptful stares (I'm looking at you, Google Glass). Bluntly speaking: They're not very good.
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