Do you own a smartwatch? Or a fitness band? Many of us now do. According to recent IDC forecasts, over 45 million wearables will be shipped this year — Apple Watches and Android watches, activity trackers, bracelets, heart rate-monitoring headphones and smart glasses.
A spec list is the wrong way to judge a wearable’s worth
Why did you buy your wearable device? Or why are you thinking of buying one? According to Intel’s resident anthropologist Genevieve Bell, we shouldn’t be seduced by the prospect of having the latest technology on our wrists. This ‘shiny thing syndrome’ is the wrong way to choose a wearable, a buying decision fuelled by lust, not by practicality.
It is missing the point of wearables completely.
Because there’s a human side to consider. Speaking at the 2015 re/code Code/Mobile conference, Bell reminds us that we need to ask some key questions of our wearable tech. Specifically, what can it do for us? What problems does it solve? What pains does it soothe? How, ultimately, will spending hundreds of pounds on an Apple Watch or a Jawbone UP make our lives better?
Look back over the course of human history and wearable technology has typically fulfilled three core functions. Inventions such as the suit of armour, prosthetic limbs and spectacles have augmented our physical selves, making us stronger or helping to overcome disabilities or weaknesses.
Other olde worlde wearables have connected us — the pocket watch linked us to a synchronised time standard, while electric hearing aids (which were available as far back as 1898) ensured that we didn’t lose our ability to communicate and connect with the people around us.
The wearable device you choose says something about you
The last function that wearables seem to fulfil is that they say something about who we are — they identify us. Whether you wear an Apple Watch or a Basis Peak, a Fitbit band or a Misfit Shine, your choice of wearable is a symbolic one. Like the clothes you chose this morning. The shoes you wear. The way you style your hair.
“Thinking about power in technology is clearly really important,” says Bell. “But the other sort of power is important too. What does [a wearable device] say about us?”
Thinking in terms of how technology can augment, connect and identify you is arguably the right way to choose the best wearable technology. And there won’t be a single answer. No winning gadget. What’s right for you might not be a practical solution for someone else. That gives manufacturers room to innovate and compete.