Bad Data, a Usability Gap, and the State of the Wearable Economy

Posted by Elliot Chan

Consumers demand the most out of their wearables. From the days of simple prescription-reading glasses to the Google Glass of the present—if it’s going to exist, it needs to work seamlessly with our lifestyle. But at this early stage, consumers may be expecting a sophisticated Xbox One when their wearables are at an adolescent-Atari stage.

During Wearable Wednesday Vancouver on April 23, moderator, Redg Snodgrass CEO of Wearable World, a couple groups of panelists and a large crowd of innovators, entrepreneurs, designers and investors gathered together to discuss the state of the wearable economy.

While some big companies, such as Nike are bowing out of the wearable-tech arms race, the doors are open for smaller companies to make the next innovative leap.

“The fact that Nike is leaving this market is a compliment to the market,” said Nikola Obrknezev, Technology and Partnership Lead at Fatigue Science. “Consumers are telling the manufacturers what they want and what they don’t want. It is our belief that wearable devices are going onto a platform, be it the iWatch, Android or Samsung. So they are going to build within an ecosystem. I mean [Apple’s CEO] Tim Cook wears a Nike Fuelband; he sits on the board—the fact that [Nike is] getting rid of the hardware team—they didn’t say anything about the software team. Who knows what they are building behind the scenes.”

While wearable developers are transitioning from constructing hardware to creating platforms, the ecosystem shifts into the next phase as data accumulates. But the challenges and the model of development remains the same: prototype, measure and learn.

“Putting something on a person’s wrist—making something that they are actually going to wear—is incredibly complex,” Liz Dixon, CEO of MIO added. “I think people get hammered all the time for making technology that is far too complex to use. Nobody likes to read instructions.”

There is a general public demand for wearables, we can all use another innovative way to communicate, etc. But there is also a demand for wearables in a niche market that includes security and medical. Mike Morrow, CEO of CommandWear, is seeing a lot of potential for technological growth between different sectors.

“Once we know that police and security buy into it and start using it—guess who they work with: Fire, EMS, medical, industries, utilities and on and on, and it grows,” said Morrow. “Of course, as we grow we capture the attention of the big boys. We are already working with Motorola for example. They are more focused on the backend systems, they’re in with police, and they are interested in the big data and analytics side of this business. They are hungry for data feeds from the field.”

Still the gap between innovative technologies, integration between platforms and devices and the usability is one that will take time to close. And it cannot be done when marketable and actionable dishonestly occurs, a mistake that many pioneering manufacturers made.

“Right now we have a lot of devices out there that are being marketed as doing A, B, C, D and—people look at it and say ‘Wow, I really want that,'" said Bayan Vandrico, Lead Researcher and Hardware Engineer at Vandrico. “But they buy it and realize it wasn’t really what they thought it was. That’s because those products aren’t really actionable.”

Collecting data is one thing, turning that data into something useful is another. If a wearable device wants to stay on our wrist or on our face it must serve a greater purpose than telling us how many steps we take or how much we sleep. If our habits don’t change, then the wearables have to.

But with so much data entering the ecosystem, distorted information is blended in with the accurate ones. Tracking location is an example of something that sounds so simple in a technological sense, but is incredibly complicated in a data-heavy ecosystem. It has evolved significantly since GPS tracking to cell tower triangulations to WiFi RSSI and advancements still continues.

“To me the trajectory is figuring out the broad solution,” said Shane Luke, Chief Product Officer at Recon Instruments, “and having someone that really focuses on that problem. It’s okay for it to take awhile; you can still do a lot, even with data that is not quite right.”

Luke added, “It’s an important principal, if you are in this space and you are building stuff, to look around at what others are doing and what they spend all their time on. They are going to do it better than you if you only spend 25% of your time on it, guaranteed.”

Wearable tech currently stands on the threshold of something very exciting. With so much new data, ideas, devices and platforms appearing in the local, national and global economy, partnerships are bound to take the state of wearables to the next level—a stage where wearables will be of the time and not a relic of technological trial and error.

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Elliot Chan

Elliot Chan

Elliot is an editorial intern at Techvibes. After graduating from the Art Institute of Vancouver in 2008, Elliot worked in various areas of media and theatre production including acting, writing, directing, post-production and even stand-up comedy. Now he is a staff writer for New Westminster publication The Other Press and a content writer for Asian art and culture magazine Ricepaper... more




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