The wearables sector has gained considerable momentum in the last decade and will only continue to do so in the many decades to come. Wearable technologies share the vision of interweaving technology into the everyday life and ultimately perpetuating the Internet of Things. Coined in 1999, the Internet of Things (IoT) applies to the vast network of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to consistently enable the exchange of data. According to Gartner, the Internet of Things will consist of almost 26 billion objects by 2020. Moore’s Law contends that as components get smaller, products gain efficiency and become more powerful, and between conductive fabrics, sensor-clad designs and smart garments, wearables will intertwine so closely with fashion that soon we won’t notice them at all. As we make wearable tech pervasive and interaction frictionless throughout our lives, this sector is a lynchpin when it comes to how the Internet of Things will progress, and the applications for wearables are vast.
The first wearables can be traced back to as early as the world’s first abacus on a necklace or ring, the first wristwatch made for the Queen of Naples in 1810, or the covert timing devices hidden in shoes to cheat at roulette in the 1960s. However, the latest wearable incarnations, such as the iWatch, Android Wear or FitBit are not standalone, singular purpose devices, but are instead ever connected touchpoints collecting and disseminating data in real time. These new products are punctuating moments in the tech ecosystem and advancing forward each day to incorporate the most advanced electronic technologies to meet our practical needs in an ever-slicker design aesthetic. Soon it these designs will shift from a singular product to a system of sensors on the body, all gathering motion-sensing data. Technologists are already developing methods through which we can derive meaning from multiple sensors and provide a holistic view of how our bodies are performing across multiple devices and sensors to achieve a quantified self.
The quantified self represents self-knowledge through the practice of self-tracking. Wearables are at the forefront of how we create the ideal of a quantified self because they are the backbone of data acquisition as we create a digital graph of ourselves around inputs, states and performance. But our need to reach new levels of knowledge, extends beyond ourselves to how we quantify data that originates from our families and our children. Moreover, the ability to create a network of embedded devices means that IoT finds applications in nearly every field, and within wearables there is a concentrated interest in certain fields such as healthcare. Wearables will also merge further in the IoT with the connected home, soon to trigger the air conditioning if our body temperature is high, or lock a front door if a heartbeat signature increases.
With these advancements, wearables are appearing more and more in our personal and business lives and raising more relevant questions for us to address. These questions force us to confront our need to feel connected to ourselves and to one another; the legitimacy of our privacy in a digital world advancing before it can secure itself; the use of ambient intelligence and rise of artificial intelligence to meet our needs or potentially act beyond our wishes; the augmentation of our reality and in how we engage with the world around us; and how we can leverage the right data to achieve an ideal self.
It’s premature to predict all the forms of wearables that will manifest in the future. With computing small enough to be worn comfortably around the clock, technologists will continue to unlock opportunities for advancements and commercialization.