This week AT&T (NYSE: T ) purposefully, or possibly inadvertently, made two wearable technology predictions. The predictions come on the heels of Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) I/O Conference, where the latest Android Wear tech was launched, and just as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) is gearing up for a wearable launch this fall.
But if AT&T is right, we're still a bit away from getting the mass market to adopt wearable technology.
Fully connected devices
Glenn Lurie, who's the president of emerging devices at AT&T Mobility, said this week at the MobileBeat Conference that he thinks we'll see wearable devices that fully connect to mobile networks on their own (i.e., not needing to pair with a smartphone) later this year, and that those types of devices will be the ones that will get the mass market to adopt wearable tech.
"It needs to be an independent device. It needs to do something different for the end user, for people to buy it en masse," he said.
So far, Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) Gear lineup, Google's Glass, and LG and Motorola's smart watches all require pairing with a smartphone to complete major functions. Lurie's open-ended answer about a coming wearable device that connects on its own has lead many to believe he was talking about Apple's upcoming smart device.
Obviously we don't know if that's what he meant, or if he even knows anything about Apple's device, but it does point to one main issue with current devices -- they aren't built to work alone, and that's hurting the wearables market.
The unwearing of wearables
Research from Endeavour Partners says that within six months after purchasing a wearable device a third of Americans stop wearing it. Clearly, that's bad news for companies creating these devices.
To be fair, it's not clear if users stop wearing their devices because they require smartphone pairing, but I think we can assume that adding any extra barrier to a device makes it that much less likely to be used. Lurie thinks the wearable market can change if the technology can be independent from a host smartphone. He would obviously want such connectivity considering he works for AT&T Mobility, but he may be right nonetheless.
I've voiced my opinions before about the benefits of wearables -- particularly smart watches -- but also my skepticism to see these devices on the wrists of millions of people. There's massive potential in the wearables space, but as the devices stand right now, I don't think they do enough for the mass market to justify spending around $300 for something their smartphone already does.
Juniper Research estimates $19 billion in wearable device revenue by 2018, up from just $1.4 billion in 2013. For that to come true, I think the wearables landscape will need to shift significantly over the next few years.
Considering Apple is one of the only major tech companies who hasn't released their wearable device yet, I think that gives the company an advantage. If Apple goes against the current trend and makes an iWatch as a stand-alone device, it could not only help differentiate itself in the market, but also help spur mass-market adoption.
We'll find out whether or not Apple goes that route in a few months. But I think it's clear that as current wearable owners drop their devices into junk drawers after just a half-year of use, the wearable tech revolution needs to look much different than it does now -- and hopefully Apple is the company to bring us there.
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