Wearable Tech: Are You Ready?

Image of Google Glass, published in 2014 on ReadWriteWeb

SXSW 2014 has come and gone, and those who call Austin home are either still recovering from the constant state of exhaustion that goes hand in hand with doing SXSW right, or are beginning to venture out of their homes again into the world they had been so desperately avoiding for the last 10 days. The festival and all its visitors may have left, but the top trends are still buzzing about the tech community. Our last blog post focused on the top three hot topics we noticed at SXSW this year, but we wanted to dive a little deeper into each theme, as they all require a closer look into the current and future states of industry.

I attended a panel session titled “Come and Capture: The Future of Wearables & Content” that brought in four experts from Loopd Inc., Epiphany Eyewear, DAQRI and 4iiii Innovations to discuss the future of wearable technology and how it might evolve into a more integrated piece of our everyday world. In a room of close to 200 SXSW attendees, about 60% of people polled (via hand raise) said they would be interested in using wearable tech in the next five years. As the Interactive portion of the conference attracts innovators and early adopters on the whole, this wasn’t surprising after looking around to see three or four pairs of Google Glasses. It’s a “new” technology that seems too out there, too strange and superficial for mass consumption by the general public, but maybe we should take a closer look…

The first wearable technology technically came in the form of the pacemaker, according to the panelists. It’s embedded in the heart, and sends radio signals to another device that tracks cardiovascular activity and sustains stable functionality so that the wearer can react accordingly for long-term health. More common wearable tech accessories exist today such as fitness trackers for the wrist, ankle or as a shoe insert, which tracks activity level on a daily basis, and runs stats on heart rate, movement, and sleep so users can track their own unique health status. What more can there be to wearable technology? Let’s find out.

Wearable technology is based on augmenting the human ability in order to interact with the spaces, objects and content around you. While it can be extremely useful in many verticals, both on the consumer and industrial sides, a certain level of comfort and usability must exist. Technology used in movies like the Minority Report require constant arm movement when interacting with the content on a virtual screen, and while it may look super neat, who wants to be using their arms 8+ hours a day? Finding a balance between comfort and ease of use with accuracy will be key to widespread popularity of wearable tech.

Google Glass is the perfect example of wearable technology that is on the edge of innovation, but might have some not-so-subtle inconveniences when interacting with content. The Glasses themselves don’t necessarily look off-putting, but voice commands and gestures reveal the activity of a user when in public, causing many instances of offense and judgment toward the individual and device. As technology evolves and wearables become less foreign to the masses, the privacy issues will drop (remember when the first computers came out?), and technologists will find ways to consume content more efficiently using the devices.

But the issue of privacy may never completely disseminate, as it’s a global hot topic after the recent NSA scandal. People are wary of being tracked because they value their personal privacy, but as wearables gain traction among the general public, the moral conflict will need to be addressed. Beacon technology is growing as well, and if we’re all donning wearable devices in five years, we also need to know that those wearables are being tracked 24/7 – what’s important to you? Daily life enhanced with wearable technology vs. opening up your daily life to prying eyes…

Obstacles like these will crop up just as with any new technology pushing the envelope of what we’re accustomed to as a society. Ultimate self-realization will drive the move to widespread use, and time will tell just how quickly innovators bring on the early adopters and early majority.

To be able to walk into a room and immediately adjust it to your preferences will be an incredible thing. Temperature, lighting, application activation, news scanning and more can be controlled using wearable technology, and device interoperability will enhance our ability to consume content within every augmented object containing additional data and functionality. Today we are still using it mainly as fitness trackers and Google Glass, but more interactive features are certainly in the near future. Are you ready?

What do you think of wearable technology becoming mainstream? How might this impact your industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

KG @ SXSWi 2014 – What’s Hot!

Keynote speaker Austin Kleon speaks to the idea of “Scenius” during his session on creativity.

Spring is here in Austin, Texas, which means it’s that special time of year where we can all expect the lovely Texas sunshine to accompany us while we traipse around the Austin Convention Center during the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Well, the sunshine hasn’t been quite as present as we would have liked, but even some rainy weather can’t put a damper (see what I did there?) on KG’s time at SXSW!

For the last six years, Ketner Group has had a presence at one of the top technology and innovation conferences in the world that takes place right in our own backyard. We saw it begin as a little seedling of an event, and then grow into the geek-meetup monster that it is today. Before I dive into the hottest topics covered at SXSW Interactive this year, check out these cool stats on the festival:

  • SXSW began as a music-only conference in 1987, but added in a vertical for techies in 1994, marking the beginning of the festival’s 20-year history in tech, innovation and communications as a vital role to the conference.
  • Past keynote speakers include Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Elon Musk of SpaceX, and Mark Cuban, tech investor and current owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team. This year adds “Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of President Bill Clinton and Senator Hilary Clinton.
  • The first SXSW had about 700 attendees, and this year the organization expects to see more than 70,000 techies, musicians and film buffs exploring the streets of Austin and probably enjoying more than a few breakfast tacos.

Along with the growing attendance of SXSW, new and exciting brands, startups, and entrepreneurs are venturing to Austin to showcase the latest and greatest ideas in the tech community worldwide. And speaking of worldwide, several nations have brought their top techies to the festival, with companies representing Germany, Ireland, Chile, Argentina, and the UK (to name just a few) hosting trade show booths and after-hour events, as well as sessions on innovation in their respective countries. Fun fact: Ireland was named the best startup ecosystem in Europe by Forbes magazine. So who knows, the next new neighbor in your office complex may have an endearing accent with a strange affinity for Guinness…

But I digress, let’s talk about the top three trends at SXSW this year:

Wearable Tech: Where is it Now, and Where is it Going?
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, wearable technology is beginning to grow more and more popular among the innovators and first adopters among us. It’s a term we’ve been reading about a lot lately it seems, but what actually constitutes a technology as “wearable”? A list of the most recognizable wearable tech accessories include smart watches, fitness tracking devices for the wrist or ankle, and of course the always controversial Google Glass. But many products that haven’t yet become mainstream, such as wearable tech accessories that range from audio sensors that connect everyday objects to Bluetooth enabled rings that act like wands at the end of our arms – yes, really! We’ll be digging in a little deeper on a follow up blog post, so don’t miss out on what’s coming in wearable tech!

Personalization: What’s Appreciated vs. What’s Creepy
Brands are arriving at a crossroad between giving the customer the ultimate, personalized experience and being just plain creepy. There’s a wealth of data out there, and businesses are beginning to utilize it to learn more about their individual customers in order to bring them exactly what they need and where there need at the right time. So how can brands approach personalization without going too far? One tip: Don’t be overt about why you’re offering the discount you are (“You normally eat lunch at noon, but we noticed you haven’t gone to your favorite sandwich shop yet – here’s a coupon for a $1 off if you stop by at 2 p.m.!”).  Check out KG’s PB&J blog in a couple weeks for a more in depth look at how to keep the “creepy” out of personalization.

Bitcoin: Why it’s the Next Mainstream Currency
Bitcoin is becoming more and more popular, but it’s still not very widely used and is commonly misunderstood. I’m one of the curious-but-cautious types regarding a virtual currency, as it’s a concept that seems too abstract to hold real value. But that’s just it – what does give any of our familiar currencies, paper, coin or virtual, any value in the economy? Value is all perceived and relevant in the marketplace that fluctuates from nation to nation – and a virtual currency works in the same way. Some say that because it’s more secure than credit cards, (again, yes, really) Bitcoin is worth a second look from the non-believers. We’re posting a comprehensive look at Bitcoin on the blog in the next few weeks, so stick around because Bitcoin seems to be doing just that!

Stay tuned for follow up blogs on these three topics, as each deserves their own dedicated, in-depth look so we’re all as well versed as our SXSW Interactive session leaders.

What other trends have you noticed at SXSW this year? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you!