When talking about the Internet of Things, people usually think of the software in their cars, or smart appliances that communicate with back-end systems to keep the house running smoothly, or robots on factory floors doing manufacturing. When talk turns to wearable devices, though, the conversation seems to begin and end with watches, wristbands, glasses and now virtual reality headsets.
And today, it seems, the Internet of Things is leapfrogging past wearables, as industrial uses for systems-on-chip present more opportunity for developers. The ultimate goal of the Internet of Things is not to create a world where machines act alone, as on a factory floor or embedded in an HVAC system. Quite the contrary. The goal is to create a world in which people can interact with their technologically savvy machines and appliances to improve the human condition.
(Related: Making wearables work for consumers)
Telematics—the use of software and hardware technology in cars—can help us avoid accidents, can place our own entertainment at our fingertips, can improve our gas mileage, and now even hit the brakes for us when we get too close to the car in front. It can flag us when it’s time for service, sense when it’s raining so it can automatically turn on the wipers, and even sense how we drive to help us reduce our insurance costs if we drive cautiously enough.
There are so many other applications in so many other verticals: We derive healthcare benefits when sensors can communicate with medical professionals, hospitals and even pharmacies to keep us healthy.
Unfortunately, healthcare seems to be the only place that wearables are having an impact. There are now all manner of health-related wearable devices—from Fitbit and Pebble to offerings from Apple, Garmin and Rogue Fitness—that count our steps, monitor our heart rate and breathing, and some that even monitor the blood sugar levels of diabetics at regular intervals.
We do not mean to belittle the value of these devices. They are perhaps the most important kind of human-device interaction that we can have: little machines that help us stay healthy, fit and alive. But to truly gain wide traction beyond the fitness buffs among us, wearable devices are going to have to offer more. Google’s first attempt at putting a computer literally in front of your face with its Glass project stalled; the company is only now beginning to revisit the feasibility and value of information delivered by eyewear.
That’s not to say there is no room for wearables. The Apple Watch, which had tremendous uptake upon its release, offers a wide array of applications for its App Store and takes into consideration that these devices need to be stylish if they’re to be worn. But for wearable technology to really take off, we want to see a whole lot more functionality, or more vertical uses cases, that scream “MUST HAVE.” Bring the world to us in our wearable devices. Augment our reality beyond buzzes and vibrations. Reimagine the form factor. Then, perhaps, we’ll be motivated to put one on.