Embracing wearable tech is more than strapping a smartwatch on your wrist and pairing it with your smartphone.
For that matter, Nick Jacobs, Intel’s marketing leader for its Internet of Things and wearables businesses in Asia Pacific and Japan, highlighted that the first step is knowing how to wear it.
“Guess where a heart-rate monitor went when I asked someone to wear it,” said Jacobs, before he made a wrapping action around his wrist.
Cue awkward silence. And also, the real challenge of wearables - making it easy for people to adopt and use.
Tackling the challenge of adopting wearable tech
To understand wearables and how it makes sense to users, companies need to ease the user in with the most identifiable form factor. Years of research, development and focus groups have landed on the wrist - bracelets, watches, armbands.
Industry analysts have even earmarked the Apple Watch, which will be available in more countries from 26 June, as the catalyst for wearables to take off.
"With the Apple brand/unmatched consumer base now behind it, we think the wearables category potentially has a 'silver bullet' product, which can start to move consumers toward this new avenue of technology growth and drive adoption of the Apple Watch,” said FBR analyst Daniel Ives.
But is there really a silver bullet?
Essentially, Intel thinks otherwise.
“I don’t think it’s necessary, it’s about lots and lots of different technology,” said Jacobs before he promptly highlighted the multi-year R&D collaboration with Luxottica Group. While he didn’t share specifics of what the partnership would bring, think along the lines of Oakley smart sunglasses or even smart clothing under the Giorgio Armani label, all powered by Intel.
Wearables can't be categorised with just one specific form factor. Its essence is represented by the infinite possibilities posed by what one can think of doing with your existing gear. It’s about “a richer diversity of products to address an extraordinary range of customers and their needs," said Jacobs.
“Imagine, we can give you shoes that tell you how many steps you’ve walked, or measure your blood sugar level based on the clothes you wear,” he added.
Intel’s plan is pretty much simple, yet boldly ambitious - planting its Curie 32-bit Quark processor on every piece of wearable that you can conjure in your mind. Curie is more than just a tiny processor, it supports Bluetooth LE, six-way gyroscope, and a sensor hub processor that knows when you walk, run or cycle and enables different pattern recognition for same sensors.
Intel is in the business of making processors. Making millions of Curie microprocessors to power clothes that measure UV rays isn’t particularly hard. The challenge, as Jacobs puts across, is getting wearables to talk to each other.
Making sense of wearables
To understand how that works, one has to know where wearables sit in the Internet of Things (IoT).
Wearables are personal. It lives, breathes and knows your habits. It measures and reports your daily activities. But for wearables to truly make sense, it has to live in the IoT ecosystem.
Think of IoT as the big picture, one that weaves your wearables into the grand scheme of things. Wearables worn by office workers, for example, could tell a smart building if it’s fully occupied or not, allowing it to decide if it should reduce power consumption in less crowded areas.
“That decision is made by a local gateway or sent back to the company’s HQ where analytics is done,” said Jacobs. The latter, he highlights, is how IoT becomes central to wearables - it makes sense of the collected data, analyses and continues to improve the technology.
Other examples brought forth by Jacobs include heart rate sensors on, for example, bus drivers. The logic behind IoT is how it could send the emergency signal to a central system that operates smart buses, and applies the brakes when a driver suffers from a cardiac arrest.
Wearables aren’t decision makers
While it seems as though wearables analyses and performs specific actions based on collected data, it’s far from being a decision maker. In its nascent form, a smartwatch could notify you of a nearby offer through a location-based app. “Do I want to take advantage of the offer? It’s decision support, not replacement,” said Jacobs.
The nature of wearables is that it enhances your life. But the final decision lies with you.
So the question is, will it distract or even confuse a user with its multiple options and scenario? Jacobs firmly says it won’t confuse, but wearables can “distract users in powerful ways” and only when you want it to. A smartwatch could learn when it’s in a car, and promptly stop any incoming notifications until you’re out of the car.
It’s the story of how a wearable alerts appropriately when you need it. “It’s the immediacy of access to information and ignoring the unimportant moments when it notifies you without putting everything down,” he adds.
Is this the age of wearables?
Perhaps, not so soon. While Intel is already well on track to power future wearable technology with its Curie processor, mass adoption of wearables has a long way to go. “They don’t want to mess around with charging, Bluetooth pairing and a lot of things that make tech complicated. They just want things to work,” as Jacobs puts forth when asked if wearables put fear into the hearts of consumers.
Some might take well to smartwatches. Others to smart eyewear. “It’s about working with the right partners, it’s not just one silver bullet,” he adds.
But perhaps, the age of wearables could be upon us, even as soon as Christmas 2015. Jacobs hinted at a new generation of wearable, new product form factors and categories, most of which will come to market by end of this year to 2016.
Ultimately, Jacobs notes, for wearables to succeed, it’s about making a great tech on the table and letting wearable makers customise it to the needs of its customers.