Wearables of the current generation are essentially beautified geekware without a real use case, or thoughtful engineering
As awkward as the ‘quantified self movement’ – the bizarre label for a trending form of health-conscious geekdom – seemed at the outset, it seems to have taken the world by storm.
As a fitness enthusiast, I tend to question the concept of a ‘quantified self’ as it prioritises the wrong things. Just like with personal finances, statistics and data crunching may create transparency, but are merely part of the equation. What matters more is how you earn and spend.
Apply this to health and it becomes much more important as to how you improve your health, and in what way that adds to your quality of life. Quantifying your health is pointless if it ends up as a purpose in itself. It shouldn’t just be a means to better health either, but to a more fulfilling life at large.
If you’re like me, you expect emerging technology like wearables to focus on this grand ambition – yet it doesn’t. Wearables on the market today tempt you to think self-quantification (not better living) were people’s ultimate goal. Sadly, though, they’re not even getting that one right. You’d expect this ‘innovative’ new category to deliver cutting-edge sensor technology – but wrong you are.
Today’s generation of wearables is still unable to collect the kind of high-fidelity data a serious ‘quantified’ approach requires. Why are we trying to ‘quantify’ ourselves and complicate our lives with irrelevant (and inaccurate) statistics that bring us no closer to enhancing our lifestyle than, say, the lottery draw?
I assume the wake of excitement with which new gadgets enter our lives easily overshadows the fact that these may be created in the absence of a user need, and without meaningful user experience. Engrossed in the lure of the novel, we adopt whatever new shiny thing is celebrated as the ‘next big wave’. Living some six months with my very own specimen, a heart rate-reading wearable from one of the two best-selling manufacturers, convinced me that the wave of human progress we are eagerly anticipating from wearable tech is still a distance away.
For example, my device fails entirely to differentiate between activities as unrelated as dishwashing and running, which leads to unrealistic walking distances from (well, inaccurate) step counts. What’s more, synchronising takes minutes for stats to be fully populated. Bluetooth connectivity takes an intolerable strain on my phone’s battery, and its internal energy source barely lasts half a week.
To top it off, the display (lucky I even have one) looks like it came straight off an early-90’s gameboy. And, for something this flawed and expensive, it’s pretty damned ugly too.
How about its other large competitor? Less ugly perhaps, though equally pointless. My wristband, for instance, reacted with a cosmetic product, after which it was useless and unsightly, and never to be worn again. You get my point – whatever you call them, these products are everything but refined. Yet, they’re sold in quantities and at price points that may soon get you a legit brain scanner for home use. I know which I’d buy next!
So, why did we create a multi billion-dollar industry around a product which is focused on self-quantification that isn’t relevant to most people, lacks breakthrough technology and remains hopelessly unrefined to date? Much as this puzzles me, it’s not the end of the road. Principally, I am big fan of wearable technology and its many possibilities that have yet to be explored – I just feel the category is lightyears away from reaching its full potential, and serving the only real purpose of new technology: To make life better.
Wearables of the current generation are essentially beautified geekware without a real use case, or thoughtful engineering. They’re a successful marketing recipe lacking a genuine innovation at heart: Take the step trackers popular in the 80’s, add a mobile app into the mix and there goes your expensive lifestyle product. What is being sold as a one-stop-shop to great fitness actually ends up being a gimmicky distraction resulting at best in a temporary increase in physical activity, before being thrown into the back drawer. Wearables are the accessory equivalent of sandwich makers – initially exciting products that get old really fast, mainly because they’re not that new and not that smart, and hence don’t really add enough value to our daily routine.
So, what needs to change? First and foremost, the category needs a great product to replace the MVPs currently dominating the market – with proper sensor technology to begin with. Also, a focus on the ‘so what’ of quantification is paramount, simply because most people couldn’t care less about competing for steps. We need to move away from number-crunching and toward wearable technology that serves as the backend to becoming the best versions of ourselves – i.e. from quantified to qualified self as the principal value-add of a device.
This requires dramatic improvements in user experience built on actual insight into unaddressed human needs, which would help wearables achieve drive real, lasting behaviour change outcomes.
For example, there’s a potent opportunity for wearables to resolve the tension between craving instant gratification (such as lying on the sofa, or eating a donut) and making progress toward long term aspirations (eating healthy, having a toned body). If wearable technology were to become the bridge integrating these two conflicting desires – i.e. maximising our enjoyment of each moment, whilst ensuring we remain on track to achieving and maintaining lasting health and happiness – its future will be even grander than we predict today.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.
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