In 1931 – the dawn of the decade that gave us nylon, the Turing machine and 8mm camera film – Dick Tracy arrived in our newspapers as a comic strip hero detective, who used forensic techniques to crack his cases. Tracy was a fictional character, but was using advanced technology and science to solve crimes; technology that would have seemed far-fetched and unrealistic to the generation that became our grandparents.
One of the signature tools of Dick Tracy was a two-way wrist-watch radio – bearing in mind this is in the days when many houses didn’t yet have electricity, and radios were often powered by large, heavy batteries that needed to be charged.
By 1964 we had transistor radios aplenty; the most popular electronic communication device in history. To keep ahead of the curve, in that year Dick Tracy began using his two-way wrist-television to communicate with police headquarters and other detectives.
The Future Has Arrived
It may have taken a while, but here we are, sporting our smartphones with instant two-way visual communication with anyone, virtually anywhere on Earth. I’m glad I wasn’t around when tiny two-way communicators were first predicted, as I would have been obliged to patiently wait for the better part of a century for the technology to actually emerge..
However, in 2015, we are fortunate to have the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) available at our fingertips. I’m not talking about your Nest thermostats, or security systems that you can operate from anywhere in the world, or even a garage door you can open by tapping on your smartphone screen.
I’m talking about Google Glass™, irrespective of how good it is, or how well it was received; I refer to how it can provide live, on-the-fly information to us in real time.
I’m talking about other wearables like Oculus Rift and OSVR, and their ability to make us feel like we’re in a restaurant on the other side of the world about to have lunch with a friend. I’m talking about Thalmic Myo and technology that allows us to control things by moving a part of our body. I’m talking about LEAP Motion, which creates a virtual volumetric space that we can reach into with our bare hands and manipulate objects on our displays as if we were actually holding them.
And I’m talking about Mindwave, a device that picks up our thoughts and allows us to control objects at a distance, such as an Exoskeleton for a quadriplegic. One day Stephen Hawking may very well walk out on stage in a slim carbon-fibre Exoskeleton almost entirely hidden beneath his clothes as he begins his TED talk.
We’re right at the very edge of significant change in the way we do things. Much like we feel now about the technology used by dear old Dick Tracy in 1931, the things we now take for granted may be unbelievably primitive in the next 10 to 15 years. Talking to our wrist-watches or smartphones to cause something to occur will be almost forgotten as a technique. We’ll just have to think to make it happen.
But, many questions still remain: as a general population, are we ready for this transformational shift in wearable technology? Should this type of technology be restricted to the scientists, the tech-savvy, and the entrepreneurs striving to make the world a better place? Does our Fitbit or Apple Watch actually improve our ability to sleep because it tells us how many hours we’ve had, or is too much knowledge about our own personal health and habits causing us unwanted stress and anxiety, thus actually having an adverse effect? And the most important question of all – is wearable technology truly ready for mass-market adoption?
Right now the wearable technology market is worth around $1.2 billion a year. Over the course of the next six years it is estimated to increase by an order of magnitude. That means $12.6 billion per year in this market will be available for those creating wearable electronics.
Wearables can now be integrated into our clothing and accessories; they are the next big thing, and they are available today. Although most of us have at least heard of Apple watches and Fitbits, wearables are still right on the knife-edge of the very latest technology; is the mass market general consumer really ready to embrace and integrate this technology into our daily lives?
Let’s watch this space…
Adam Birchall is an international business development specialist and intelligence & insights advisor in the technology sector. He has held senior technology strategy, product development and m-commerce roles with Barclays and Nokia; he is a technology thought leader and is a sought-after speaker at conferences and industry events.