Thursday, 6 February 2014

2014: Year of the Where-Able

2014 has barely got off the starting block, and the world of technology really flexed its muscles. 1 billion smartphones were shipped in 2013. Google bought Nest, sold Moto to the Chinese, while clutching onto the R&D function. Facebook is 10 years old. Microsoft has a new CEO. Yes, he’s Indian, he likes mobile and he’s an engineer by training; make of it what you will. Cisco makes nice with Google. Cisco then makes nice with Samsung in patent sharing. In a reverse hook, Beats went from making headphones to making music apps. Opera has the world's 5th largest app store. Sony sells off Vaio, its PC business to an investment firm after 17 years. Some American female driver got a ticket for driving with her Google Glass on. The Koreans launched at CES 2014 with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, spewing a whole army of  ‘me too’ hardware.

Trying to swallow the massive tsunami of news that rolls in daily is a Herculean task. Kicking clear of the Augean flood, it seems a few things are becoming more apparent in the wearables race.

2014 IS the Year of the Wearable.
If you’re asking what a wearable is, you need to stop winding your wrist watch, take off the monocle (always wanted to use that word) and get with the program. Just about every OEM has announced plans for hooking up phone to some form of wearable device. Be it smartwatch, smart glasses, smart shoes, smart clothing or smart contact lens. The industry is making the devices for adorning your limbs and body stretch the fabric of imagination. (Pun fully intended.)

Who wears, wins.
Along with the hardware that’s sprouting on wrists, faces, heads, and bodies; the app developer is going to be busy too. From making apps that are desktop and mobile friendly, it’s almost a throwback to try and make apps talk to various hardware with tiny or no screen sizes. What works on a smartphone screen doesn’t translate to a watch doesn’t translate to a Glass user interface. Besides planning for the display size, it’s time to capitalize on new consumer applications. Just read the New York Police department is experimenting with Google Glass in law enforcement use. Face recognition? Here, I think that the developer that strikes hard at the wearable app market first, wins.

I’m predicting now a whole lot of wearable tech inventory that’s going to go on cheap, cheap sale within Christmas 2014. Why? Consumers aren’t able to create new behaviour just yet. The market ability for consuming wearable technology is limited at best to early adopters and well-monied types. While mobile devices, e.g. smartphones, are becoming almost an annual replacement affair due to shortened development cycles. Most of the users who have the first Galaxy Gear, Google Glass, are unlikely to be replacing them as they wait for new apps, functionalities to be ready for those devices.  Big brands will lead the marketing wave for early adopters, leaving smaller/niche brands scrambling for a spot in consumer minds. Market like hell, where able. 

This year is going to be hugely interesting. As a gadget lover and occasional geek, I’m watching where the first wave of killer apps will come from. Can Africa perhaps lead the race in creating apps for wearable tech? Will the Samsung-Google-Cisco patent monster rear its ugly head? Will Apple render them all out of time? iWatch this space…