Trends are a strange thing. Sometimes they involve a new device or product that no one had ever heard of before that explodes into the world as a shimmering sensation. Other times, they are something that has been around for a while, that suddenly become popular, like Pabst Blue Ribbon in the aughts. Then there are trends that become patterns that become permanent institutions. These are less predictable, because when they first begin, they seem ephemeral. Then they stay, and before we know it, they are part of life.
A good example of this is the internet. It is tempting to see the internet as inevitable, as much a part of our daily life as it is, but even at its blooming, there were those who thought it would wither on the vine. Clifford Stoll never lived down a famous Newsweek column from 1995 about how the Internet was a fad that would die. At one point it was more fashionable to make fun of people with cell phones than it was to have them.
I think we’re going to see this be the case with wearable tech. It has been around for some time, and has been growing, but it has yet to really explode. That all might change in the next few weeks. Apple has announced an event on September 9th where it is expected they will unveil not just the iPhone 6 – itself a seismic event in the mobile tech world – but the iTime, their major splash in the world of wearable tech. And if Apple jumps in the pool, they generally bring everyone along.
Here’s to your health!
Wearable tech comes in many forms, and in theory will be able to do many things, but at the moment it is most prominently involved in biometrics, the growing field of health measurement. These devices generally look like watches, and measure your pulse, heart rate, miles run, stress levels, etc. This is what the iTime is expected to do, as well.
Obviously, there is a demand for such technology, which is already producing amazing results, such as San Francisco’s Jawbone being able to measure sleeping patterns during and after last week’s earthquake.
These don’t have to come in the form of watches. Just this week, at the US Open, Ralph Lauren debuted a line of biometric shirts that will be released in 2015. These are also capable of reading your heart rate, breathing patterns, stress levels, and other things, and delivering that information straight to your smartphone or tablet. (This was brilliantly skewered in today’s Onion, when a respondent in the “What Do You Think Section” commented, “Having a shirt that I need to worry about recharging should do wonders for my stress level.”) One of the flaws of this delivery system, as opposed to the watch, is that you can’t see the information right away, unless you are holding your phone or tablet while working out. But it is great to see the results of your workout, and anyway, it seems small beer to complain that your shirt can’t immediately tell you everything at once.
And that is kind of the point – this is all still new. At some point, your shirt will not only be able to tell you how your workout is going, but it will be able to understand when you are getting close to your home to get your shower going and maybe brew some post-run coffee, once wearable tech blends with the Internet of Things. It seems nearly inevitable that this is where we’re going. And it is all thanks to Apple?
Apple: Leading from behind
Of course it isn’t. Apple isn’t at the forefront of this. Everyone has been trying to get in on it. It’s just that now that Apple is making an announcement, it is sucking up all the media energy, and the other companies are trying to show that they are ready, too. It’s not a coincidence that after Apple announced their event, Samsung and LG rather hastily revealed that they have new smartwatches.
The Samsung “Gear S” is the first smartwatch that can make standalone phone calls, as opposed to having it route through your phone. It is Bluetooth-enabled, and has all the same health measuring applications as the expected iTime. It also can receive messages and run your calendar. It’s also pretty remarkable.
So this will stir up again the old debate: does Apple do things better, or are they just really good at appearing to do things better, and so get all the attention? In a way, it doesn’t matter (though it matters to the stockholders of various mobile companies very much). As a consumer, we still get to make choices. I personally am a Galaxy man, though that was less of an informed decision than which store was closer when I bought my first smartphone. But I’m extremely happy with it, as I would be with an Apple or an LG or Motorola.
The important thing is that the Apple announcement has already brought a world of new attention to wearable tech, and the wake it creates is strong enough to draw in everyone else. People will get used to wearable tech, even if at first we roll our eyes at smartwatches and glasses. The eye rolling will stop, they’ll become more and more ubiquitous, and then at some point, no one will really remember when they didn’t have a watch that told them to drink more water.
This could still bust, of course, but I doubt it. Maybe wearable tech won’t be in the form of a watch – maybe it’ll be entirely on clothes, or a patch on your skin, or some kind of brilliant sandal or something. But wearable tech is the future, and all it might need for the future to come rushing faster than we imagined is for Apple to use its sheer punishing gravity to make it happen.