Autonomous Wearable Tech Will Evolve Not Appear

Unlike passive wearable electronics, as discussed in a previous piece, the market for autonomous wearable products is still in its infancy, with few products actually available on the market in mid-2013. The key difference between autonomous and passive wearable electronics is that autonomous products have built-in advanced processing and connectivity features. This enables the devices to work independently from computers and smartphones, but adds a tremendous amount of complexity and cost to the manufacturing process. The main problem for manufacturers in 2013 is devising usage occasions for these products for consumers who already own a wide array of mobile electronics.

A technology in search of a problem

Although not available to the general public, much of the discussion about the future of wearable electronics has been centred on Google Glass. While the Explorer programme’s participants examine potential uses for the device, we took an audit of our analysts’ attitudes and purchase plans with regard to the device.

Plans to Purchase a Google Glass Device

Plans to Purchase a Google Glass Device

Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey—Analyst Pulse; July 2013

Note: Question: Which of the following statements best describes your plans (or lack thereof) to purchase Google Glass? N=218

There is a small percentage of the population with an active interest in the technology, most likely borne out of an overall interest in technology as a whole. Nearly one in five respondents cited privacy or aesthetic concerns with regard to the device, while 40% said they would be open to looking into a later version of the device once it is available and/or prices decline from the US$1,500 the early explorers paid.

Most importantly, half of all respondents were either unsure or did not know enough about the product to form an opinion. This is fairly common with new product formats; what makes Google Glass and wearable electronics generally different is that the manufacturers themselves cannot come up with uses for these products. This is the main reason why Google Inc has introduced the device to a small group of developers well ahead of any possible release to the general public. Similarly, Epson Corp held a developer event for its Moverio Smart Glasses in August 2013. Google Inc is an advertising company which relies on its products and services to generate an audience for its advertisements while collecting user information about that audience to better target these advertisements. This model only works when people use its services, and in mid-2013 nobody seems to know what services can be packaged into Google Glass and similar products to make mainstream consumers want to buy and use them.

Smartwatches

The idea of a head-borne computer is fairly novel outside science fiction novels. However, wrist-mounted computers have been available in the marketplace for some time now. The Sony Smart Watch has seen no mainstream appeal but Samsung Corp, Acer Inc and Apple Inc are among a large number of manufacturers rumoured to be working on similar designs. In the same Quick Pulse survey, we asked about interest level in advanced features on wearable electronics.

Level of Interest in Advanced Features in Wearable Electronics

 

Level of Interest in Advanced Features in Wearable Electronics

Source: Euromonitor International Analyst Survey—Analyst Pulse; July 2013

Note: Question: Personally, what is your level of interest in purchasing wearable technology devices with the following features? N=218

Of all advanced features, location-based functionality generated the most interest while interest in social media alerts and a wearable phone replacement device was far lower. Most of the interest generated by these features is weak, meaning that they will need to be well-implemented to have any chance of generating sales.

Market outlook

A successful product will make extensive use of the fact that it is wearable, while products that simply emulate a smartphone in a new form factor will likely fail. The likelihood of autonomous wearable computers becoming mainstream in the near future is small. For such a scenario to occur, a manufacturer would need to build a watch or glass-sized device with on-board user input, processing capability, advanced connectivity features and a wide array of sensors that can be used without charging for at least a day. More importantly, the device would need to provide functionality that smartphones and tablets cannot.

We expect passive wearable electronics to continue to dominate volume sales through to at least 2015. These devices are capable of collecting biometric data and relaying it to a smartphone or computer for processing, without the added expense and complexity of on-board processing, which is in line with what most mainstream  consumers want from wearable technology. In the long run we will see wearable devices become gradually more complex, and eventually become autonomous devices that can be used independently of smartphones or computers for a steadily expanding array of functions. Hence, autonomous wearable computers will slowly evolve from the passive, sensor array-type products that dominate the market today by gradually gaining new features.