Saturday, November 21, 2015

Where Are All the Wearables We Want to Wear?

Millions of years ago our ancestors straightened up and started carrying tools around, instead of dropping them after use. And so technology became a part of daily routine.

As time passed, more useful tools were made than it was feasible to carry or wear over the shoulder. One solution to this problem was monetary exchange, the other was a better technology. Wearables promised to add more convenience than carryables and, ever since humans started to wear clothes some 170,000 years ago, there was no lack of attempts to turn useful products into wearables. But this was not easy.

Eyeglasses correcting vision appeared 700 years ago and moved into mass production phase as more books were printed and read. Yet, first wearers of glasses, monks and scholars, were stigmatized as weak and old until the early 1900s when the 29th US president Theodore Roosevelt and the king of comedy Harold Lloyd finally made glasses popular.  Eyeglasses kept evolving but their primary function remained vision correction and eye protection. Google glass was an amazing technological accomplishment but we were not ready to put computers on our faces.

The first wearable HDTVs from Sony were inconvenient because of the bulky battery pack, and the surrounding waves seemed to reverberate  through your skull. Even so, smart glasses are already developing loyal following  in niche markets such as Augmented/Virtual Reality  gaming and tools for persons with physical disabilities. Google glass is heading toward a second version, and so are second generation wearable TVs like recently launched Royole-X that combines high-resolution display with noise-cancelling headphones. Virtual reality is back with some incredible headsets in development, and the best is yet to come.

The first truly wearable watches were created 200 years ago, some 300 years after portable spring driven clocks. The first smartwatch appeared in 1977. Hewlett Packard’s HP-01 combined a personal calculator, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a timer, and a 200 year calendar.  Linux-based WatchPad developed by IBM  and Citizen in 2001 featured a graphic display, Bluetooth and an accelerometer and were called a “popular publicity gimmick”. Smartwatches developed in the last decade run on processors and internal components designed for smartphones. As new electronic components are being created, watch designs are getting slimmer,  more attractive and more functional.  Smartwatches might have a chance.

Hearing aids introduced over 100 years ago, are examples of still existing and successful wearable technology. They evolved from cartoonish ear trumpets to digital hearing devices that do more than amplify sound. Many technical problems – such as background noise still remain, but developers are already working on merging more features – like health tracking capabilities or the ability to flip through songs with just the tilt of a head – to create the new wave of hearables.Picture

Google Engineers Invent New Body Part To Strap Gadgets Onto. This was a satirical headline from Onion, but the truth is inventors have already tried every part of the human body as a surface for wearables.

Wearable storage evolved from clunky wooden trunks to small purses hung on one's belt (like Robin Hood's pouch) to ​pockets as we know them, sewn into trousers and dresses, in the late 1700s. Pockets went out of fashion  in the 1790s, and women began to use handbags. They came back larger and plainer during the 19th century. Today's  attempts at wearable storage vary from handbags with built-in-batteries to charge your favorite gizmos on the go, to microchips in clothes or implantable chips storing personal information for mobile payments, to wearable robots aka exosceletons for lifting and carrying heavy loads. 

But however strange some of the wearables may seem, they are the future and this future is ripe for growth.  


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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Technologies and Generations

Children no longer obey their parents and the end of the world is evidently approaching. So said a clay tablet inscribed almost 5 thousand years ago. But the world still stands, although we do go through golden and dark ages and societies rise and fall.

Technology's golden age is now, or so we hope. How are current generations influenced by it and how will they shape the future world?

Even as they age, Baby Boomers embrace emerging technologies such as smartphones and social networking. They will be the driving and demanding force behind innovation in healthcare. In the past, they drove the economy by spending and borrowing, boosting housing and stock prices, increasing demand for products and services. 

America's neglected middle child, Generation X is now the quiet driving force behind enterprise, media and information consumption. Xers endured lots of destruction, but were able to adapt and sparked a renaissance of entrepreneurship. They bring to the table a significant amount of buying power, but are less eager to spend money. Nielsen poll suggests they prefer value over social acceptance.

Millennial Generation, alternatively dubbed the Net Generation, Generation Y (or Why?), Echo-boomers, Nexters, and Digital Natives is now the largest generation in U.S history. Fueled by immigration, they outgrew the outsized Baby Boomer population and continue to grow.  Raised on a steady diet of video games, in a world where almost everything can be done with an app, fanned by economic slowdown, they are choosing to live differently and embrace the sharing economySince the second world war, purchases of new cars and suburban houses have propelled economic recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both, spending on smartphones instead. "The cheapest generation" burdened by student loans is renting instead of buying. They are demanding better integration of technology into public services, prefer healthy, natural, socially and environmentally conscious products.

Perhaps auto brands and home builders just need to leverage mobile and environmental sustainability to attract this generation? Manufacturers do think so trying to turn cars into "giant docking stations with wheels". Tesla is one example of a brand adapting to millennials - and it's the top automotive stock owned by this generation. 

One-in-four Millennials (23%) already installed at least one of Internet-of-Things products in their homes, compared to 12% of the total population. But building a true "smart home" - like the one owned by the Jetson's  -  integrating and managing multiple devices, and dealing with their eminent malfunctions needs a lot of patience. Perhaps companies like IOTAS - creating smart homes for today's renters  - have taken the right first step? 

In the coming years, Millennials will continue to drive the growth in the Internet of Things, connected cars and wearable markets, and Generation Z will inherit technology rigorously tested by prior generations. What will be their signature product and communication device? We'll know soon enough.

Join our conference "The Rise of the Millennials – Emerging Disruptive Trends". It will take place on November 21st 2015, at the Intel Auditorium in Santa Clara. 


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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Is the Internet of Things the Real Thing?

The Internet of Things: an exciting new world with a digital nervous system or a nightmare where objects take decisions while we are unconscious?

15 years ago, when the term was first coined, it was about assigning everything around us a unique identity with RFID tags, to enable all material things to talk to each other and save us time for gathering and using information. As RFID tags dropped below 1 cent cost, and sensors, modems and devices are getting smaller, smarter and cheaper, this vision is moving closer to reality.

The latest Gartner's Hype Cycle (August 2014) places the Internet of Things at the peak of Inflated Expectations, while Big Data evolving in tandem with IoT has already started to fall into the through of disillusionment, getting ready to join mobile health and cloud computing right there on the bottom of the through.

Consumers are not ready to embrace the flood of smart wearables and appliances - as they don't really know what to do with them, don't perceive their value and are concerned about privacy and prices.

Clay Christensen's theory of "disruptive technology" emphasizes that technologies tend to get better at a faster rate than users' needs increase. Next Big Thing often starts as an expensive "toy". When the telephone was first introduced it could only be afforded by the rich and it could only carry a signal over a short distance. If Watson really had said in 1943 that "there is a world market for maybe five computers", as Gordon Bell pointed out much later, it would have held true for some ten years.

The first generation of IoT devices fell short of user needs and was rather primitive. Over a third of people who bought a smart wearable abandoned it a few months later. Yet, the "new" has never been hotter. It seems a new wearable is launching every week and we are constantly waiting for something newer and better, hoping it will finally answer the question "what can we do now that we could not do before?"

However, the current generation of "smart things" is focused mostly on better designed hardware and higher-end consumers. Fashionable elegant-looking devices are supposed to make wearables more appealing and "design thinking" is one of today's hottest buzzwords. Withings Activit√©, Fitbit pendants from Tory Burch,  Yves B√©har's designed Vessyl, Diane Von Furstenberg's Google glass, Rebecca Minkoff's tech-enabled jewelry, and the new bracelet from Intel - MICA  - highlighted by pearls and other precious stones - are getting ready to conquer attention of consumers and developers. Especially developers - as the size of the market will depend on the number of developer-entrepreneurs creating value in it.

The app economy taught hardware manufacturers that when people experiment they find ways to create value, often in unexpected ways.  But it also taught developers that they need to invest considerable time to build a marketable app and the chances of that app to make money are about 1 in 25,000. As the average age of developers keeps decreasing getting into the middle and high school years, the main benefit of app development becomes education and learning by itself. But will this be sufficient for the Internet of Things or will inter-networked things remain a toy for the wealthy?

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