The Future of Wearables

Is wearable technology a passing fad? Or a technological progression that will be everywhere in our future?

Predicting the future can be a fool’s game. Being too futuristic with ideas that are not grounded on people’s real needs leads to sci-fi fantasies that belong in comic books. In product innovation we look at a 3–5-year horizon – not too far out, but far enough that we think beyond what exists in our current world. With the adage “the trend is your friend”, we look at existing developments in technology and society, and project outward. We analyze what’s happening in parallel product and business categories. Using primary research, we observe people using existing solutions. We combine research with experience prototypes to test people’s acceptance of newness. Being both strategic and creative opens the door to innovative ideas that don’t exist yet.  

What do we know about wearable tech using this approach? Here are 10 developments that indicate the future of wearable technology.

1. Technology is getting faster, more powerful, smaller and more energy efficient.

2. Wireless infrastructure is improving due to faster speeds and improved connectivity.

3. Edge and distributed computing enable fast data processing and access to rich content.

4. The built environment is increasingly brimming with technology and sensors that wearables can connect to.

5. The internet is becoming more widespread. Rural areas can now have access to fast internet with products like Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system.

6. Personalization in both physical and digital mediums is increasing. “Made for me” gives users the opportunity to express themselves more.

7. The shift from fitness tracking to health monitoring is increasing. New sensors enable 24/7 health monitoring and new ways for a primary care team to connect with their patients.

8. Like the shift from desktop to smartphone, functionality is shifting from smartphones to smartwatches.

9. The advancements in voice assistants enables new interaction modalities. We are evolving from keyboard to touchscreens, and from touch screens to voice command.

10. Like smartphones liberated us from our desk, voice UI and AI will liberate us from screens.

Based on these trends, wearable technology will become part of everyone’s experience. The big question: Will there be a time when we can leave our smartphones at home and fully rely on the smaller devices we wear continuously?

A look back of the computing sector, we see the shift from functional business machines of the early 1970s to the personal smartphones and smartwatches of today. These newer technologies help us express who we are as individuals both in the design of the hardware, and the content the device helps us consume.

The shift from function-driven machines to those driven by user experience and style will only continue. Back in the early days of Apple, their computers were used primarily by students and professionals—mostly designers. Today, Apple is for everyone. The importance placed on industrial design and intuitive user interface from the very beginning was entirely strategic. This focus supported the evolution of computers from a device made for experts, to a device that anyone could naturally use every day.

What we wear expresses who we are. Smartwatches designed by tech companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google have become a fashion statement. The only opportunity to be unique is with personalized bands and screens, and not everyone wants these narrow visual expressions and to be a part of the “tech tribe”. Advancements in manufacturing and the ability of users to choose their look is increasing. We believe that the next generation of wearable tech will be more like jewelry. There will be more diversity in shapes, sizes, form factors, materials, and colors to better represent personalized style. By working with leading fashion brands and watch/jewelry companies, the opportunity for personal expression is endless.

We designed a concept illustrating this point of view. The technology in the wearable that we created is housed within an easily removable module, which is hidden inside a piece of jewelry.

This wearable piece of jewelry is then designed by the brands, fashion houses, jewelry makers and artists, unlocking a world full of options. This idea is like the relationship between the phone and phone case, but the hierarchy is flipped. Instead of the design of the technology being front and center—like today’s smartphones—it disappears, and the design of the jewelry is what is celebrated.

This concept unlocks so many possibilities. People can wear what they please, and not be constrained by the aesthetics of tech. They can have diverse options of different form factors, they can choose from day to day, and they can upgrade the tech module without having to buy a whole new wearable.

Written by Max Burton, Founder and Creative Director of Industrial Craft.

A brief history in wearable tech.

I have been involved in wearable technology for almost 20 years. The first products date back to when I was the Creative Director of Nike’s Timing and Monitoring group and Tech Lab. Our first product, a partnership between Apple and Nike, helped people track their run while listening to music on their Nano. A first in the quantified self-movement. After serving the running community, we looked at all the other major sports categories. We landed on the phrase “everyday life is a sport” and the idea of “Fuel Points” for our next product. After Nike I went onto Frog, where I was the leader of the Disney Magic Band project and the connected Park in Disneyworld. This was revolutionary in the sphere of wearables as it was a first in terms of access, payment, and personalized experiences – it connected guests to the physical space and Disney characters around them. After Frog I started a design firm called Matter, where we designed multiple wearable products such as a smartwatch for Samsung. The smartwatch’s round form factor, rotating crown, and bezel with a touch screen created an innovative, easy-to-use interface. A ‘designed’ smartwatch before the Apple Watch. The Matter team went on to creatively lead Carnival’s Medallion Experience, bringing personalized experiences to Carnival guests through a pocketable and wearable medallion. Most recently, as Global lead Connected Products and Spaces at Fjord, my team designed the new Virgin Cruise’s fully recyclable wearable made from sea plastic.