“I don’t like Mondays” sung the Boom Town Rats, a statement that most weeks we here, at Mobile Monday Manchester can agree with. But every few months, a particular Monday comes around which transforms it into the best day of the week for hundreds of the North West’s best and brightest.
This Monday was no exception with over 200 people turning up at our headline sponsor UKFast’s headquarters, complete with giant chess set and a Japanese water garden, to listen to, and take part in, ‘You Are What You Wear- Is there a future in wearable tech?’, our latest event.
The evening comprised of a wearable tech ‘show and tell’ by Google, TransaXiom, Blue Fingers and Intoware, and a fascinating panel discussion and audience Q&A with some of the leading thinkers in the wearable sector. We were joined by:
- Martin Bryant: Editor in Chief, The Next Web
- Michelle Hua, Founder, Made With Glove
- Piers Ridyard, CEO of Nifty
- Imran Younis, freelance UX Consultant
- Dan Sodegren, Mobile Marketing Expert
The evening started off with our panel chair Martin Bryant whose first slide read “We’re not ready for wearables”, followed by the assertion that wearables aren’t ready for us. A bold start but one which seemed to represent the general gist of the discussion as the evening went on.
2014, argued Martin, was supposed to be ‘the year of wearable tech’ as was 2013 and, he suspected, as will 2015. Wearable tech, he argued, simply isn’t ready yet to take that mainstream step and become an intrinsic part of our day to day lives.
On a recent trip to Texas for example, Martin forgot to take off a wearable camera whilst going through customs, leading to its confiscation by the TSA and “an hour of them trying to figure out what it was” helped only by “the fact that I was very British and very apologetic.” People aren’t ready yet, he argued, for wearable tech to take its place in airports or in social situations where the possibility of being recorded could make people uneasy and suspicious.
Wearable tech, Martin concluded, should “fit around your life instead of you having to adapt to it” and as a result, though smart watches could be the exception to the rule, there is unlikely to be a ‘year of wearables’ where the industry skyrockets and these devices become mainstream.
Up next was Piers Ridyard, the CEO of Nifty, one of the most successful kick-starter projects in the UK, who agreed that wearables aren’t ready to become mainstream quite yet but felt that the possibilities for wearables, and the way that they integrate, for example, into the internet of things, could have some interesting implications for the future. If, for example, humidity sensors in gym wear sensed when you had an elevated heart rate or increased humidity they could instruct your fridge to have a cold glass of whatever you like ready for you when you get home.
But these interesting possibilities, Piers argued, are only feasible when we have the utility to match. We’re currently at the stage where we have innovative ideas for wearable tech but the systems, and specifically the wide stream public adoption, to bring those ideas to life don’t exist. There’s a fascinating future ahead then, but we’re not there quite yet.
Piers was followed my Michelle Hua who opened with a story about a visit to Prague and a 6 hour, -21 degrees, walking tour around the city. 2 hours in, and with frostbite induced desperation, Michelle put her portable hand warmers inside her gloves, making the remaining 4 hours significantly more manageable. On returning home she found that the only heated gloves available in the market were “big black bulky gloves for motorcycle riders” and a distinct lack of attractive, fashionable gloves targeted towards women; and thus Made With Glove was born.
Wearable tech, she argued is an area that is often targeted towards men but one that could well come to be dominated by women. The reason for this, she argued, was that one of the main factors that could bring wearable technology into the mainstream is its relationship with the fashion industry.
Michelle pointed to cooperation between tech companies and fashion labels such as Apple and Burberry and Fit Bit and Tori Burch, working together to make wearables sought after accessories. Interestingly, Michel’s insights picked up on Martin’s point of wearable tech having to fit into our current day to day lives. With fashion putting its mark on the wearable industry, Michelle predicted that it could be the fashion industry that makes wearables more attractive, desirable and eventually mainstream. The wearables industry, she predicted, could well grow to be worth £70 billion in 10 years’ time depending how well it works with the fashion industry.
Imran Younis was up next to warn the audience not to fall into a trapp. Imran, a UX developer specialising in Android, told the story of how he attended a hackathon competition where he was tasked with using Android to develop a wearable app. Without a clear, wearable specific idea, Imran and his team took the approach of simply shrinking an existing mobile app. This is the trapp he argued: if wearable apps are to succeed they can’t just be normal apps shrunk down to fit on your wrist; they have to have their own unique functionalities.
Imran followed this by giving the audience a tour through the various functions of Android wear showing that when an app is designed for a specific product it can both be both useful and successful.
Last up was Dan Sodegren, mobile marketing expert, and a man who flies through slides faster than any man alive. Dan pointed to what he called the “hype cycle, a naughty thing that gets us every time.” There is always a peak of expectations he argued, a vision of “a brave new world”, and this is where we are with wearables. But, as with many other products, wearable technology hasn’t yet lived up to the hype. The reality, his slides showed, was a large picture of a grumpy faced baby.
So what can bring wearables into the mainstream? The answer, argued Dan, is sectors such as fashion and in-car technology. If, as Michelle argued, the wearables and fashion industry work closely together then they can help make wearables an attractive option. Similarly, if wearables can be integrated with the growing sector of in-car technology, with, for example, the diary on your wearable watch pre-setting your car’s sat-nav before you start your journey, then consumers would be more likely to buy useful wearable tech.
The panel all agreed therefore that the era of wearable tech hasn’t yet arrived, but through making it fashionable, unique and useful then it’s an industry that could still be picked up by consumers the world over.
The audience Q&A drew similar conclusions. One question asked whether utility or fashion was more important in the advancement of wearables. Whilst panellists disagreed on which was more important, with Imran favouring utility and Michelle favouring fashion, all agreed that a successful wearable product couldn’t have one without the other.
Are wearables a technology with numerous problems but no solutions, asked another audience member, why do we need them? No, answered the panel; there are plenty of problems with wearables but there are solutions. Wearables, argued Imran, could be very useful; channelling notifications from your phone to your wrist for example has made him much more productive since you can use your phone less and be more engaged with the world around you! 3G internet, Piers argued, was an innovation whose merits were questioned at first but which we’ve quickly adapted to and become reliant on.
After discussions on whether wearable tech could bring David Hasselhoff’s Night Rider into the real world, and whether wearables for animals could be an emerging market, the final question asked about the benefits of wearables in the healthcare sector. All the panellists agreed that it’s a market where wearables could take significant strides. Surgeons recording surgeries with wearable cameras, trackers logging patent’s vitals and then delivering them to their doctors, and vibrations from wearable sensors being used to help the visually impaired, were all suggestions for wearable innovation.
Wearable tech, therefore, is still an emerging technology though one which hasn’t taken off with as much momentum as many may have hoped. Yet the prospects for innovation are vast and if wearable developers work to make them useful and fashionable then it’s an area with an exciting future.
Following the Q&A, attendees got the chance to try on some exciting wearables and carry on the discussion at the bar. Thank you to all our sponsors, speakers and everyone who attended. Until the next time…