A look at the future of wearable devices, with a focus on what was showcased at this year's South By Southwest Interactive festival and what these new products mean for marketers.
This morning I had two minutes to buy a transit ticket using a touchscreen ticket machine. Usually, that’s not a big deal. But in 24-degree weather, it proved very tricky. I quickly got through most of the screens but my fingers were just too cold for that last screen. With the train racing toward the stop, a "smart" person understood the problem, took their hand out of their warm pocket, and quickly helped me finish the last digit of my zip.
Lucky for me there was that smart person. Imagine if I had a wearable device for all of these outside activities? Well, here is a list of some and where the future lies...
1. Nanotips. It’s a new liquid that uses conductive nanoparticles to mimic the electric conductivity of human skin. Due to the liquid nature, you can use any pair of gloves on your touchscreen. Using an easy applicator, you swipe it on the thumb and forefinger of the glove. It lasts for a few weeks but is supposedly easy to re-apply.
The founder sees applications way beyond cold winters. Sporting gloves, military gloves, construction gloves, and even thick ski gloves can be made touchscreen compatible. Yes, there are other touchscreen gloves on the market. But most of them trade off warmth for functionality. On that 24-degree railroad platform, they wouldn’t cut it.
2. At South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) last week, one of the hot wearable tech gizmos was Logbar, a silver finger ring with Bluetooth capabilities. It uses your finger gestures as the ultimate remote control devices for smart devices. Imagine writing letters in the air to text, or drawing a camera to open your connected phone’s camera. You can customize the ring to recognize your gestures. It’s a magic wand — and responds to you through LEDs and alerts.
One unique feature is that it will control smart household appliances, not just smartphone-enabled apps. While it can’t open the fridge and get you a beer, it can control TV lights, and temperature. Integrate with iBeacon, and you can make payments with just a gesture.
Logbar’s chief executive Takuro Yoshida exhibited it at SXSWi and it was the talk of the town. A winner of the TechCrunch Tokyo Startup Battle in 2013, it already surpassed its fundraising goal on Kickstarter and is scheduled for release this summer.
3. Nymi is one of the best things I’ve see to authenticate your identity. It makes passwords and PINs passé. Nymi uses your cardiac rhythm as a unique biometric, so the bracelet knows who you are. (Their slogan? "Put Your Heart Into It") Part of the SXSWi Accelerator program, Nymi is from the Toronto-based Bionym and will retail for $99. It took SXSW by storm and thousands of pre-orders have already been received. People are seeing it as a secure, mobile wallet, the Holy Grail for some.
4. Speaking of biometrics, let’s not forget Apple TouchID. More than just a fingerprint scanner, the recent patent filing by Apple covers using your eyes and even your voice as an authentication method. Imagine transferring data by secure voice control or fingerprint scanner from your iPhone to your desktop. Like Nymi, it avoids the messy passwords situations. Apple has been focused on the wireless data transfer aspects, to give Dropbox a run for its money.
5. So where’s Goliath, I mean Google, in all this? Google announced at SXSW that it will be releasing free Android-based software tools to promote the development of cutting-edge wearable tech devices. Google hopes the free software release will spur the invention of new devices. Yes, Google Glass and the planned smartwatch are coming but that is just the start. Opening up its Android software tools, which power more of the world’s smartphones than anything else, will throw open the marketplace. Google wants to go beyond the early adopters to the mainstream. And with billions of Android users, that’s a mass market.
6. All these wearable tools are great but they still need battery life and an Internet connection. Already being showcased are purses and jackets that charge your phone. The full-size purse shown at SXSWi uses MIT fuel cell technology and can charge your phone or tablet 14 times. There is also clothing with built-in solar panels to charge your phone. One of the cooler things I heard about was a quilted jumpsuit that connects to GPS and Internet, and can function as a Wi-Fi spot for other nearby devices. James Bond, meet the Matrix.
Wearable tech is more than just a Fitbit and Google Glass. While this column has focused on wearables from the individual consumer point of view, one can easily see potential applications in the marketing arena. As all of our personal devices, from TVs to tablets, become more mobile and more customized, it provides much more specific data for marketers. It allows you to be even more specific in your campaign targeting. Fitting an ad on a 2-inch smartwatch screen will be a challenge. Let’s see what new ways develop.
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