The recent introduction of Google Glasses and the rumored debut of Apple's iWatch have tech experts now predicting that we are entering a new era in technology. The so-called "wearable technology" or "wearables" market is loosely defined at this point and its impact on the industry remains unknown.
We've all seen the fitness bracelets and anklets that track exercise regimens and calorie burning, but the idea behind the wearable devices from Google and Apple is entirely different. To these companies and others, wearables are essentially a way of making consumer tech even more readily at hand and easy to access than ever before.
"The idea behind wearables is to simply extend the tech that smartphones and tablets are already providing but to do that in a way where the user almost doesn't realize they're even interacting with the tech," explained wearable tech blogger Seth Roland. "The tech becomes an extension of yourself."
A few of the products that will be unveiled at the upcoming San Francisco Wearables DevCon will include a mood sweater that changes color depending on your emotional state, sneakers that clean the floor while you walk and a slightly less bizarre music player that matches music to your heartbeat.
While the market for wearables may currently be niche, those poking around this market feel that even though wearable tech has largely been nothing more than a sideshow to mainstream CE in the last few years, the wearable worm is about to turn.
"We're seeing some fun but kind of goofy stuff come out now but products like Google Glasses (lightweight frames equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display that responds to voice commands) and a few others are taking the category in some useful and interesting directions," said Roland.
More than a few analysts apparently agree with Roland's view as last year the market for wearable technology - encompassing everything from new hearing aids to wristband pedometers - totaled almost $9 billion. That number should climb to $30 billion by 2018, according to a recent report from IHS Global Insights.
While those numbers are certainly eye-popping, other recent studies indicate consumer enthusiasm, like that of Tames, remains a bit tepid for wearable tech. Global CE researchers TNS Global released the results of a recent study they did on wearable tech that concluded consumer response to this market remains rather lukewarm. The study claims that approximately 75 percent of respondents were aware of this category's emergence and that 55 percent felt such products were too expensive or didn't meet their needs. Only 10 percent responded that they intend to purchase these products in 2014.
So then, while this emerging tech industry waits for consumers to hop on board, perhaps the biggest question we're left with is this - what exactly is available today in the wearable tech market? A good question - and here's a brief (no pun intended) look:
The Smart Diaper
The diaper has certainly functioned quite well for its intended purpose for the many centuries we've been using them. The last major improvement to this garment came back in the1940's when the first disposable diaper came to market, so I suppose we were long overdue for the Smart Diaper. A company called Pixie Scientific has developed a diaper that can detect possible urinary tract infections, kidney dysfunctions, dehydration, and yes, you guessed it, when the baby has done a boom, boom. The outside of the diaper features different colored squares that each represent an interaction with a protein, water content or bacteria. The patches change color if they detect something out of the ordinary - or sometimes simply something out.
Can't get enough of your social network circle - perhaps Ping is for you - a social networking garment which connects the wearer to their social media accounts wirelessly. The simple movement of gestures such as lifting the hood, bending or swinging your arms, or moving the zipper allows you to interact with your social network friends when they send you a comment or message. A smartphone app allows you to customize messages sent by sensors that track when you move your clothing.
Your Body's Talking
This one is more concept than actual product, but certainly caught our attention. The RISR Vest is a proposed piece of clothing that is essentially aimed at helping people with their posture but perhaps the more ambitious goal is to help folks who struggle with social interaction and body language. In theory, the vest contains a web of sensors that are connected to a smartphone that scans the target person you are interacting with and vibrates in order to tell the wearer how best to correct their body language in return. Again, concept-only at this point but certainly intriguing.
Mood Ring and Now a Sweater?
We can't imagine why anyone would want to reveal to the world exactly what their mood is at a given moment, but the makers of the Sensoree Mood Sweater apparently feel otherwise. This garment emits a clear blue light to indicate that you are feeling calm and relaxed or it may quickly shift to a more vibrant mauve when someone inevitably pisses you off. The company tells us the Mood Sweater uses the same technology behind the classic lie detector test. Its sensors read your excitement levels and translate the data into a spectrum of colors.
Under Armour Plus
We've certainly seen plenty of wearable tech that falls into the fitness category and you had to figure the Under Armour people were jumping in here eventually. Their new Armour39 system combines a small Bluetooth LE-enabled pod with a chest strap and an app that tracks your level of exertion, awarding you WILLpower points along the way. This one is really for the hard core athletes among us and we assume future versions could get quite interesting.