Our 1′st FUTURESPEAK production Brought to you by our resident Digital Sociologist, Lisa Talia Moretti FUTURESPEAK topic for the month of May: Wearable Technology According to a 2015 Q4 report from CCS Insight, the value of the wearable technology industry is set to treble in the next five years. Treble.
That is insane considering that wearable technology en masse didn’t even exist as an industry beyond experimentation since the mid-2000s. If you want the actual figures here they are; according to their report Wearables Forecast, Worldwide, 2015-2019, they’re expecting growth in monetary value to be around 64%, so from $15 billion in 2015 to $25 billion in 2019. Right now I’m imagining Leo on a boat making it rain $100 bills.
Those numbers are pretty astounding but in order to see that kind of growth, a brave few need to ‘break’ the system in order to make wearables more appealing to those who are not fitness fanatics, curious self-quantifiers and early adopters. “Wearable technology needs to overdose on empathy” To ‘break’ the system is to start a new discussion of what this kind of technology can be used for.
To start with, at a very basic level, this means redefining what monitoring, wellness, health and self-discovery means to more people. There is also a need to start a fresh investigation into form and aesthetic – a wrist device or watch is not a desirable option for many people. Bodies are different; wearable technology needs to accommodate for this. In addition, not everyone is competitive nor wants to be; this shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone but the tech community needs to actively remind themselves of this. Lastly, we need a renewed commitment to building technology for people who don’t live with uber, mega-fast, always-accessible broadband. What I’m essentially trying to say is in order to hit its numbers, wearable tech needs to overdose on empathy. But don’t despair.
A shift is occurring. On the big, global side of things, Tory Burch, mastermind designer behind thousands of enviable outfits worn by women around the world, has teamed up with Fitbit to give their products a makeover. Misfit has been acquired by highstreet jewellery brand Fossil and are burning up with all the great reviews they’re getting. At Misfit, Christy Trang Le is CFO, Amy Puliafito is Director of Communications, Christy Liu is Growth Manager, Sarah Virginia White is Content Strategist, Julie Kin is Head of Visual Design, Amy Lee works on the hardware team and Diana Chang is the industrial design lead.
While there may be more men than women on the team at Misfit, having women lead in these important roles in the business is a huge step change compared to many, if not most, tech companies. “Bellabeat wants to help women live better and healthier lifestyles” On the smaller, start-up side of things there are just as many exciting projects breaking new ground. Founders of Jewelbots Sara Chipps and Brooke Moreland have created wearable tech friendship bracelets for young women. Through wearable tech their goal is to make products that expose young girls to technology and make technology accessible to their interests. Vinaya, a research and design studio headed up by CEO and Founder Kate Unsworth, has released its first product. Altrius is a collection of mindful wearable tech jewellery (“stay connected, not distracted,” they say) – and it is stunning.
The Financial Times had this to say about the Altrius jewellery range: “Utterly genius – and possibly more exciting even than the Apple Watch.” Bellabeat wants to help women live better and healthier lifestyles. They’ve introduced a suite of wellness tools (activity, period, sleep, mindfulness) that is packaged up in the form of an elegant leaf design that can be worn as a bracelet, necklace or a broach-like clip. Urška Sršen, CPO and co-founder was recently featured on Forbes ‘30 under 30 Europe’ list. Non-profits are also getting involved. In 2015, Unicef in partnership with ARM and frog created the Wearables For Good Challenge. I strongly recommend you read the handbook they created.
There is a clear message to think strongly about local culture, internet connectivity, abilities and needs. What emerged at the end of the challenge were two winners who built wearables with technology in mind but didn’t live on a screen. That is a fundamental shift in how we think about building tech. SoaPen is a wearable and portable soap re-designed to encourage hand washing amongst young children to reduce the risk of catching and spreading disease and thereby increasing their lifespan. The team behind SoaPen also created an app where teachers can access a curriculum on how to teach young children about personal hygiene. The second winner is a wearable platform called Khushi Baby.
It uses a mobile app for community health workers that interfaces with a digital necklace worn by patients via Near Field Communication. It requires no connectivity or power (a mobile app interfaces with the platform), costs less than a dollar and has the ability to store a baby’s vaccination information. The necklace has been designed with a culturally relevant piece of information in mind too – the fact that many babies already wear black thread necklaces in India to protect them from evil eye. “If you’re building something for Zambia, don’t buildit in New York” Not too long ago, I saw this brilliant quote that went something like ‘If you’re building something for Zambia, don’t build it in New York.’ Both SoaPen and Khushi Baby had teams based in-situ of intended launched markets which has been absolutely critical to their success and adoption rates.
Wearable tech is starting to shape into something different because the new guard are arriving at the problem with a different toolkit in their hands. What is so heartening is that these products are being adopted and adapted by two groups who have historically struggled to make their voices heard in a traditionally, male-dominated, western-skewed tech culture: women and citizens of developing countries. Long may it continue and benefit us all.
Written by Lisa Talia Moretti Proudly brought to you by LIMBIK 13 May 2016