Stop Ignoring Wearable Tech, It's Already Here



Samsung's current lineup of smartwatches. Source: Samsung.

Let's do a few quick predictions, just for fun. In the future, rescue robots will drive their own vehicles and clear debris for us, people will be able to control prosthetic limbs with signals from the brain, and baby clothes will monitor a child's heart rate and how well it's sleeping.

Actually, you can scratch those ideas, because they've already been created, and one of them is even on the market right now (you can find out more about them here, here, and here). What seems like science fiction is often closer than we realize.

And the same goes for wearable technology.

Where we're at
Right now what most of us know about wearable technology comes from Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) smart glasses, called Glass, and Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) Gear smartwatches.

Just this week Google opened up sales of Glass to all U.S. residents, departing from its previous path of letting only a small group of "Explorers" buy the devices. Google said the glasses are still in beta mode, but opening them up to everyone in the U.S. is the latest step before the company releases the final consumer edition of the device.

Google Glass just went on sale to all US residents. Source: Google.

Samsung's Gear smartwatch -- while hardly a prime specimen of wearable tech -- has proven that massive technology companies are willing to spend lots of time and money in creating werables, even if no one knows what they're doing yet. Samsung is currently on its second version of the Gear smartwatch, which is one of four wearable devices the company sells.

But even as advanced as Samsung's and Google's technologies are right now, there are plenty of more changes coming.

Where we're going
A recent Pew Research study interviewed nearly 1,900 "experts and stakeholders" about the future of the Internet, and their responses shed some light on the importance of wearables and their influence over future technology.

Though there's a lot of variation between what different respondents believe will happen in the future, one of the main things most agreed on is that both the Internet of Things and wearable tech will have mostly beneficial effects.

Mike Liebhold, the senior researcher and distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future, thinks today's wearables are just a precursor to what's coming. He said in the Pew study that, "Both Google Glass and Samsung watches are very early, crude prototypes for much more interesting and useful devices that will be widely used by 2025."

Salesfoce.com's chief scientist, JP Rangaswami, agrees. Here's what he had to say in the report:

People will engage with information using all of their senses: touch and feel, sight, sound, smell, and taste -- using them in combination, more often than not. Wearable, connected devices will become embedded more and more in our bodies, more like implants, as in the [Google] Glass becoming more like contact lenses. As that happens, our ability to use nerve impulses to engage with information will expand dramatically.

Samsung's Gear Fit 2 may not be the future of wearbales, but it's a step in the right direction. Source: Samsung.

That seems really futuristic, but Google's chief economist has a more practical approach to wearable's future. He mentioned in the report that, "We will talk to devices in essentially the same way we talk to other people. Yes, you will be permanently connected to the network via wearable devices. You will interact with these devices mostly by voice, as you would interact with another person."

Constant connectivity through werarble tech, whether embedded or external, can seem a bit unsettling right now. But what if that technology is saving lives, as Google Glass already has?

Bryan Alexander, a senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, thinks people will accept wearables as they start seeing the direct benefits. "Wearable computing can make things easier for users, and that's enough to drive adoption," he said in the Pew study.

Which leads us to the tech industry's current stance on wearables, one in which companies know they can make wearable products that will make people's lives better, even if they haven't laid the golden egg quite yet. 

Foolish thoughts
Clearly there are dissenters who don't have the same warm feelings toward wearable technology. Some believe the tech won't be accepted as quickly as others have predicted, and some have raised ethical, safety and privacy concerns. Of course they have some valid arguments, and no technology should simply be embraced without some initial skepticism.

But there are changes coming to wearable technology, and many companies, including Intel, Apple, General Electric -- and of course Google and Samsung -- are already firmly in the space or likely entering soon. The question for investors, then, is not if wearable technology is worth considering as an investment, but rather how to do it and when is the right time?

We're still a ways away from the predictions some were making in the Pew research report, which means now could be the time to get a handle on this tech trend, if for no other reason than to be educated about future investment strategies. But one thing is certain: wearable technology isn't going away any time soon.

And now for the important things: How do you make make money from wearables?
Obviously we're still at the beginning stages of wearable tech, but that's exactly where savvy investors want to be. To help you get started in this new tech opportunity, The Motley Fool's put together a special report on wearable technology -- and we're giving it away for free. To get access to the report right now, just click here


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