Where are wearables going?

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One aspect of technology that seems to have plateaued is the wearables sector. We now have fewer smartwatch models to choose from and fitness trackers seem to have fallen out of favor. The time has come to ask ourselves: where are wearables going?

Innovation wanes for wearables

By now, most of us have owned or are using some sort of wearable. This could be smartwatches as adjuncts to our smartphones, or standalone fitness trackers that are used to guilt us into being more active. Five years ago, wearables were the next big tech category and some of them were even used as wrist phones capable of making and taking calls independently of phones. Manufacturers tried to cram all manner of features and functionality into smartwatches, such as cameras and mobile payments options. They made smartwatches walkie-talkies and even music players. Where is that innovation now?

Early smartwatches felt like solutions looking for a problem. Sure, they were great for notifications and for basic health tracking functions, but you still needed a smartphone to get the most out of the experience. Fitness trackers were single-purpose devices and had the advantage of lasting for days on a single charge, but it seems that the market is saturated.

Reflecting on today’s wearables

The Apple Watch has no doubt reached critical mass and seems to be the most widely used smartwatch, but it is still locked into the Apple ecosystem, which is outrageous to me. Apple Watch would be much more popular if it worked on Android devices, especially since Wear OS  seems to be languishing. Fitbit makes fitness trackers and often attempts to make smartwatches with mixed success. That company absorbed the staff and patents of smartwatch originator Pebble before it was itself bought by Google, which seems to squander every acquisition it makes (cough HTC, cough Motorola). 

Samsung is one of the unsung heroes of the wearables market. Its understated Galaxy Watch Active line isn’t new but continues to be updated to bring features like an electrocardiogram (EKG). I’ve been using one for over a year and have been impressed with its function and its battery life. Best of all, it looks like a watch with its round dial and bezel. I use my Galaxy Watch Active with a Galaxy S10 5G but can just as easily use it on any Android phone or even an iPhone because it is capable of this interoperability (as all watches should be, Apple!).

Features for future smartwatches

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are here to stay so they should incorporate features that make sense of today’s realities. Here are a few that should be considered:

  • Panic button – Make wearables emit a loud alarm during times of emergency or when the user is threatened.
  • Body camera – Enable recording of 360° video when triggered with recorded video backed up to the cloud.
  • Thermometer – Capable of taking a user’s temperature as a preventive measure and with the ability to send notifications or alerts if temperatures  are higher than normal.
  • Personal tracking device – Wearables can emit a beacon to show where they are relative to a map.
  • Voice recording – Ability to record audio and back it up to the cloud; useful in emergency situations. 
  • Vaccine passport – Should carry easily accessible links to a user’s health information including if they have been tested for COVID-19, have antibodies, or have taken their vaccines.
  • Digital key – Wearables can be used to unlock doors, start vehicles, as well as open and unlock linked computers and tablets.
  • Pulse oximeters – Can help track oxygen level in the blood and assist in determining infection. 
Words Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla | TechnoSphere column
This article was originally published in Speed Magazine’s May-June 2021 issue

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