Is Wearable Technology Fumbling into the Future?

Wearable tech is the new big thing, but a number of these devices are not yet ready for prime time.

by / January 24, 2014

Tweeting shoes, charging USB bracelets, smart socks, and even smarter glasses — the wearable technology tidal wave is poised to begin flooding marketplaces any day now. But the tech is still in its infancy, and critics doubt the longevity of several wearable products that have been unveiled thus far. 

Wearables were prominent in last week’s CES 2014, the world-famous annual showcase for companies’ snazzy gadgets and technological ideas, but media outlets claimed that a lot of the neat toys didn’t amount to much.

The New York Times, for instance, wrote that many smartwatches were “big and slow,” and they're a lot less fashionable than good, old-fashioned “stupid” watches. The Times also claimed that smart glasses were big and clunky compared to “traditional” glasses. Other writers echoed the same feelings, specifically about Google Glass, which made wearers look obnoxious, moronic and dorky

Both sets of items have also failed to impress on the practical side as well. Many smart watches and glasses have horrible battery life, and their features are currently buggy and have limited features. The electronic ink display watch, for example, may be cooler looks-wise than it is useful.

“There’s a number of the devices that I don’t think are ready for prime time yet, specifically some of the e-ink watches that are black-and-white screens and don’t seem to really do that much,” wrote Nick Bolton of The New York Times.

But regardless, wearables production will increase. Gartner predicts that it will be a $10 billion market by 2016, and 91 percent of Americans are excited about it, according to Wakefield Research.

There’s no way to tell which wearables will emerge as more than just fads, but there’s hope that developers will be able to keep trying until they create one that catches on. Intel’s Edison, an SD-card-sized Pentium-class computer with built-in wireless capability, will allow engineers to create powerful gadgets and applications small enough to wear. 

Brian Krzanich, Intel’s CEO, touted the revolutionary potential of Edison and wearable computing in his opening keynote at CES.

"Most of my career, computing has been something you hold in your hand. Maybe it’s something in your pocket [or] something that sits on your desk,” he said. “That idea is about to be transformed.”

That could prove true in the future, but for now, the wearables market is young, and many of the products seem like precursors or testing grounds until something more concrete comes along.

“We’re still in the experimental stages of the wearable market,” Henry Samueli, chief technical officer of Broadcom, told The New York Times. “But at some point one of them will stick and consumers are going to love them, and everyone else is going to copy it.”

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