Five years ago, Imperica ran an event at the BFI in London's south bank. Called Wearable Horizons, its intent was to look at where the nascent wearable technology market could be heading. With a set of genuinely brilliant speakers (Ghislane Boddington, Kate Sicchio, Andy Piper, Tamara Sword, Gretchen Andrus, Anna Dumitriu… oh, we could go on forever), we hoped to cover a wide range of views on the past, present, and of course future of wearable technologies.
Step forward five years. IDC and other media/strategy businesses will tell you that the market will grow by around 8% year-on-year for at least the next few years to come. In theory that sounds great, but there's one thing to bear in mind: the diversity of wearable products is shrinking – quickly.
Put it this way. IDC's report at the end of last year on wearables broke the market up into three chunks: watches, earwear, and wristbands. There was nothing else on the list. No IOT wearables, no smart clothing… nothing.
That's not to say that there have been attempts to develop these parts of the wearables market. Google's Project Jacquard is an honourable attempt by everyone's favourite nice/evil company to develop clothing from the ground up with sensors and interfaces built-in. Its partnership with Levi's has thrown up a "commuter jacket" where gestures can bring up apps on the wearer's phone. It's a very nice product, but at $350, it's very much a niche product – and Google has a habit of terminating the lives of some of its more interesting but less popular products.
Similarly, fitness gear such as the Athos range, covered in a plethora of sensors, allow the body to be fully tracked. Pairing these smart clothes to apps allow the wearer to instantly see the efficiencies of each of their muscles. However, with Athos' products starting at $400, this is really for professionals and those who have a bank balance big enough not to worry about paying several hundred smackers for a ponced-up vest.
As such, maybe clothing-based wearables are not for the masses, who have adopted such technology (pacethe IDC report) in the form of AirPods and their brethren, smart watches, and FitBits.
Those at the beginning and ends of their lives may find wearables much more attuned to their needs: smart socks for babies measure heart rates, and motion-sensing smart belts with automated alerts to carers (think of a waist-worn car airbag) for the elderly is where such technology will really come into its own, with life-changing, and life-saving use cases. From sleep pattern monitoring in the young to senior foot care with GPS, such wearables are real game-changers – for their customers rather than the markets at large.
In short, although the wearables market has indeed grown, the three big-ticket consumer products have cast something of a long shadow. However, maybe this is where cash-rich companies such as Apple might next turn their attention.