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Wearable computers face an uphill battle.

Google may have sold a stack of Google Glass during its one day sale last week, but the day after saw Nike lay off its FuelBand division. It turns out that many people who bought fitness bands tossed them after only a few weeks. 

Smart watches struggle to find a market

Other wearable computer makers face problems.

Oh, the pain…

Pip Coburn explains why wearables are not taking off in The Change Function:

Users will change their habits when the pain of their current situation is greater than their perceived pain of adopting a possible solution

In the case of wearable computers, most people simply don’t face much current pain.

To date few wearable computers have proved they can deliver enough value to overcome the cost of using them. And when I say cost, I don’t just mean money. As some Google Glass owners have discovered there can be real pain.

Pointless gimmick?

There’s little a wearable computer can do that other devices  can’t be do equally well or better. Want notification of incoming phone calls? You could use a smart watch. Or you could just listen for a ringing phone.

And wearables have lousy displays. Smartphones spent the last four years evolving to larger displays for a good reason: they are easier to read. Want to know the weather forecast? You could squint at tiny, unreadable text and hard to decipher icons on a tiny unreadable smart watch display or you can reach into your pocket and read it easily on a smartphone screen.

Will Apple make wearables bearable?

For my money most wearables are also overpriced, gimmicky and have appalling battery life. While I admit on one level Google Glass is technically impressive, the device is socially unacceptable and marks the user as a ridiculous dork.

It won’t always be this way. Eventually someone, possibly Apple, will find a way to make the pain of using wearable computers lower than whatever pains we face from not using them. Then the category will take off.

Or maybe not.

The smartphone may not be wearable in the same sense as Google Glass or Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, but it fits neatly in a pocket. That’s almost wearable. And unquestonably useful.

6 thoughts on “Wearable computers not ready yet

  1. I definitely think it’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. I also think this round of wearables is going to be like this round of 3DTVs; Manufacturers desperately hoping they have a new market to exploit and bring in the great profits of yesteryear (smartphones/HDTVs).

    That being said, I don’t think Google Glass was ever planned for commercial success and I believe it has succeeded greatly at what it was meant to do. Practically test the waters and get people ready for the possibility. I think Google knew how big of a battle wearable tech was going to be – we still haven’t perfected the hardware enough to make a proper product and they know it. They also knew that research in a lab only goes so far without putting it into a product that can be tested at all stages of the manufacturing and use processes.

    When it comes to smartwatches, seeing Google Wear is all you need to know that Glass has helped keep them on the forefront. I would genuinely be surprised if Apple came out with something on that level.

    • I only partly agree with the not if but when. Or let’s put it another way: I don’t think wearable computers in their current form are going to be a hit. I suspect we won’t call them ‘wearables’ either when the tipping point arrives.

      • Yeah, when I think of wearable tech, I think more of things more integrated and inconspicuous. Like a sticker over your heart for BP/etc and a brace on your jaw for audio input/output. Glasses will give way to contact lenses.

  2. I don’t want to have a watch that probably isn’t waterproof, and requires me to charge it every single day. Equally, I find messaging and telephone calls irritating enough. I’ll pay attention at them when I get my phone out of its case, not because something buzzes or blinks on my wrist.

    • I’ve heard the next-gen watches like the Moto 360 are supposed to have days of battery life, some may have water resistance. I don’t mind charging every night so long as there is no detriment to the battery as I don’t wear a watch to sleep so I’m taking it off anyway – putting it down on a specific pad for it isn’t that much harder to me than dropping it on the window sill.

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