At the close of 2013, tech journalists look to the future… and they’ve declared that 2014 is going to be the year of wearable tech. We’re skeptical; in fact, all signs point instead to wearable tech being one of 2014’s biggest failures.
Why Do Tech Companies Believe This?
The short answer is they’ve got nothing to imitate with Apple resting on its laurels, and hell, all sorts of vibrating rings and bracelets and goofy crap like that is popular on Kickstarter, so it must be something consumers want, right?
What’s left unsaid is that there’s yet to be one of these crowdfunded items that’s a genuine, breakout hit among the broader public. Even the Pebble smartwatch, one of the most successful Kickstarters of all time, is a cult product in absolute terms. 70,000 customers to launch the product is undeniably impressive and indicates there is, indeed, a market for wearable tech. It just also indicates that market is not, say, iPod-sized, especially since two tech giants spent 2013 showing just how little consumers actually want this stuff.
2013: The Year Of Failed Wearable Tech
There have already been some pretty loud warning signs that wearable tech is not the market technology companies are demanding that it must be. For example, the Galaxy Gear was both the highest-profile wearable tech launch this year, and also Samsung’s albatross. If you want to see what a tone-deaf ad looks like, here’s one for the Gear that’s 150 seconds of pain. Despite their insistence that you want technology from the ’80s, Samsung has notably been silent on how many have actually been bought by consumers.
Google, meanwhile, has been trying, with increasing desperation, to make Google Glass a thing consumers want, and instead discovered a new subset of douchebag, the Glasshole. Whether Glassholes were driving with this thing socketed in their face, or trying to get a waitress fired for not letting them play with their toy, Google Glass will likely be the less successful version of the Bluetooth headset if it ever gets onto the wider market. Remember those? Notice how they’re not in the ears of douchebags anymore?
It doesn’t help that this stuff is all just an accessory to your smartphone; without your phone, both of these items are crippled. If they’re not even standalone products, how are they supposed to replace, well, anything?
Right Idea, Wrong Market
This isn’t to say wearable tech doesn’t have its value, or that people don’t want it, per se; it’s just that the most popular wearable tech isn’t a smartphone glued to your face, but a specific tool designed for a specific purpose. A pair of ski goggles with a GPS system and real-time tracking of your speed, vertical descent, and weather data is something that solves a problem. What problem does the Galaxy Gear solve?
Google Glass even has a lot of promise, if the marketing message were changed. It’s likely that Glass, or something very much like it, will be a part of the standard uniform for police officers and safety personnel in a decade, and a common tool for journalists. It’s just that Google is trying to make it a product for the man on the street, and the man on the street pretty clearly doesn’t want one.
The Old College Try
That said, large behemoths don’t turn on a dime, and they don’t like to hear that they’ve gotten the obvious dead wrong. There’s going to be plenty of wearable tech at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. And then it will come to market. We’ll see how it plays out, but don’t be surprised if, December 2014, a lot of it is in the discount bin.