5 uncertainties that will shape the future of wearable technology


The rise of wearables is one of the biggest emerging trends in consumer technology. Over the last decade our primary interfaces with connected technology have shifted from fixed computers to devices that we can carry in our pockets or bags. The next phase is for our interfaces to be worn on our body.

While it is always hard to predict consumer response to new technologies, it is safe to say that any early adopters will take to the next generation of devices with alacrity. While traditionalists will remain, certainly over time many who now choose to wear a wristwatch will replace it with a device that does far more than tell the time.

As the wearables landscape emerges there are 5 major uncertainties to consider:

How fast and far will we shift how we access information?

The rise of smartphones as an interface to information has been dramatic. It has been largely foreseeable in terms of the power of the technology available at an accessible cost, however what was less certain was people’s willingness to use a small screen to access information.

Now that wearables are in the market there are major uncertainties around the acceptance of interfaces that are a step beyond what we are used, for example using smaller screens for smartwatches, wearing glasses that are (initially) difficult to make stylish, or adopting contact lenses as an information interface.

What personal data will be captured?

We have already seen fairly wide adoption of simple fitness trackers, and these are likely to become mainstream as they are integrated into devices such as smartwatches. From there it is likely more medical data will be captured, starting from heart beat rhythms. A major uncertainty will be whether and when non-invasive blood glucose measures can be made. There are claims of being able to measure calorific and food intake, which would likely get widespread adoption, however the science is far from proven.

Another issue is the extent to which people will adopt ‘life logging’, capturing audio and possibly video throughout their lives. It will soon be easy and inexpensive, however there are major privacy issues overlaid on the uncertainty on how many people will want to do this.

How will we use wearables to augment our capabilities?

Eyeglasses and writing are old technologies that augment our capabilities. One of the most likely initial applications of wearables is acting as an ‘outbrain’ that allows us to store and access memories. The potential of wearables is to amplify our senses, for example isolating conversations in noisy bars, seeing details at a distance, or detecting ingredients in foods. Intelligent agents could also provide advice on how to deal with social situations, as in the famed play Cyrano de Bergerac.

One of the implications is that those who use next-generation wearables will have significantly greater capabilities than those who don’t, shaping work and social opportunities.

When will wearables merge with our clothes and body?

We are at an early stage of developing clothes that embed technology, with current examples including Wearable Experiment’s Alert Shirt. As technology gets more lightweight wearables such as smartwatches may migrate into our clothes, enabling us to make phone calls from the cuff of our shirt, or using our sleeve as a display. While clothes that change colours and patterns are still avant-garde, it may become commonplace for us to be able to change the look, and potentially even the cut, of our clothes with a press of a button or voice command.

Smart tattoos that act as displays or provide interactivity on our skin could be very convenient, particularly in warmer climates, though for the foreseeable these may not penetrate beyond the early technology adopter community.

How will we use wearables for communication?

A less prominent but also interesting issue is how wearables are used for communicating to those around us, for example indicating mood, openness to conversation, or our personal profiles. These can be communicated digitally to those around us, or even shown in the colours or patterns on our clothes.

It is inevitable that we will wear technology to an increasing degree, but there are still many uncertainties. It will be fascinating to see this space evolve.

This post first appeared on Social Media Week