Apadmi’s Wearable Tech Study:

Do potential customers think wearable tech is desirable?

Perhaps the first issue we need to address with wearable technology is whether or not there’s really a significant untapped demand among potential customers.

As we’ll see later in the report, wearable technology already has a huge variety of applications for both business clients and retail consumers. However, it’s important to remember that the key to wearables taking off is that customers must show a willingness to keep wearing them so that they become an integral part of their daily lives. There’s no point in businesses developing apps for wearable technology that nobody uses.

Sections of the report

The current climate

At the 2014 Wearable Tech Expo in New York, the expert panelists were unequivocal about the importance of aesthetics. One said: “It is important to design wearables to look good. Even before people know and understand the function of the wearable, they should want it and desire it.” Another said: “It has to look good, feel good, and be fashionable for what you’re doing in your day.” (TechRepublic)

Meanwhile, Intel recently said it was optimistic about the long-term potential for wearable devices, although it was scathing about the quality of the current generation of smartwatches in particular. Mike Bell, Intel’s general manager of new devices, told the 2014 Web Summit conference in Dublin: “Taping a cellphone to your wrist is not what I’d call a wearable. There has to be a reason why you’d use the technology.” He added: “I haven’t seen anything I particularly like in smartwatches yet.” (The Guardian)

Prominent journalists have also been quick to point out the distinction between functionality and desirability. Charles Arthur of The Guardian said: “Unlike a desktop or even laptop computer, which can look ugly but still be wonderfully functional, wearable computers have to look and feel good.”

And Sally Davies of The Financial Times acknowledged that the wearable technology industry needed to learn lessons from the fashion industry. But she warned: “Tech and fashion make for an uneasy mix… because the computing that underpins technology is all about stuff that is quantifiable and definable – while fashion focuses on the intangible, the intuitive, how things look and feel.”

If you’d like to learn more about the relationship between wearable technology and fashion, incidentally, this is a subject that we’ve covered extensively elsewhere.

What does independent research show?

All of the evidence points to the fact that we’re on the cusp of a period of rapid change in the technology sector.

In October 2014, YouGov’s new wearables tracker research reported that 2.8m people in the UK currently own a wearable technology device – but that this is likely to increase to 6.1m by September 2015. This means that wearable device adoption will more than double from 6 per cent to 13 per cent of the entire UK population in a year.

A key factor behind this anticipated rapid rise is that wearable technology is becoming more and more desirable among the general public. Some 13 per cent of non-owners told the pollsters that they were keen on getting a wearable and, of this group, 46 per cent revealed that they expected to have one in a year’s time.

Indeed, there’s no shortage of research suggesting that wearable technology is shaping up to be the next big thing. To give just a couple more examples, an Accenture survey found that:

  • 52% were interested in buying wearable technology (source) while ABI Research predicted that the total market for wearable devices in sports and healthcare alone would grow by 8x from:
  • 20.8m devices in 2011 to
  • 169.5m in 2017 (source)

What does our research show?

The question that we set out to ask our respondents was what exactly makes wearable technology desirable or otherwise.

So we asked consumers to tell us how they perceived wearable technology in its current form. Respondents were allowed to choose as few or as many answers as they wanted so the percentages don’t add up to 100 per cent, but we feel this approach gives a more accurate overall picture of the true spread of opinions.

There were a small number of positive responses:

  • 10 per cent would feel cool wearing wearable technology
  • 8 per cent think wearable technology makes people look attractive
  • 20 per cent think wearable technology makes people look intelligent and/or successful

But the lion’s share of responses were negative:

  • 17 per cent think wearable technology makes people look unattractive
  • 34 per cent think wearable technology makes people look like showoffs
  • 32 per cent think wearable technology makes people look ridiculous
  • 35 per cent said they would feel embarrassed or self-conscious wearing wearable technology
  • 18 per cent said wearable technology available at the moment is unattractively designed

So our research shows there is a small section of the population that believes wearable technology makes people feel cool, look more attractive and appear more intelligent and successful. However, significantly more think that wearable technology makes people look unattractive or worse.

What lessons can be drawn from these findings?

There are several points worth highlighting here.

Firstly, wearable technology is clearly about more than just functionality. By their very nature, wearable technology devices are designed to be worn – and items such as smart glasses, smartwatches, smart jewellery and smart wristbands are likely to be highly visible to the user’s social circle. The current crop of wearables has been criticised in some quarters for being too visually unappealing, but the next generation of devices is clearly going to put aesthetics centre stage.

Secondly, the market for wearable technology is growing at an incredible pace. Millions of people in the UK already own at least one item of wearable
technology and, over the next 12 months, millions more will follow.

Last but certainly not least, there are still significant numbers of people who feel ambivalent towards this emerging sector. There’s still a lingering sense that wearable technology makes people look like show-offs, for example, which suggests an education job remains for the industry to explain to customers how it can help to enhance their lives.

Three actionable insights for businesses

Based on these findings, we can make the following recommendations.

  • Target celebrity endorsements and brand partnerships. Some forward-thinking elements of the wearable technology sector have clearly identified that they need help to win over the mainstream. Technology innovation company OMsignal recently teamed up with clothing designer Ralph Lauren to launch the Polo Tech Shirt, an item of smart clothing, and secured some welcome publicity when professional tennis player Marcos Giron wore it at the 2014 US Open. Similarly, Google collaborated with fashion icon Diane von Fursenberg to develop a range of stylish Google Glass products. And the Apple Watch featured on the cover of Vogue China shortly after being the star attraction at designer Azzedine Alia’s exclusive dinner party during Paris Fashion Week. Headline-grabbing initiatives such as these will help new entrants to the market attract a far wider audience.
  • Constantly review your market research. The technology and fashion worlds are both phenomenally fast-moving. Of course, you should always invest time and money into ensuring that your wearable technology idea has a unique selling point that will appeal to a clearly defined target market. But with these sectors, you also need to review and update your market research throughout the development process. Stylish new apps are being launched all the time on the most popular devices so you don’t want to be left launching a concept that’s already months out of date.
  • Consider cross-platform synergies. Several start-up device manufacturers, such as Pebble, Fitbit and MEMI, have managed to raise significant amounts of money and garner some positive publicity via crowdfunding. But we’re also seeing an influx of established technology giants into the wearable space, including Motorola, LG and Samsung. Admittedly, this proliferation brings some challenges to businesses that would like to reach the widest possible audience with their apps, but it also opens up exciting new synergy opportunities because many still run the same operating system (Motorola, LG and Samsung all run Android Wear for example).


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