The last 35 years have seen the mainstream adoption of the personal computer, the internet, the selfie, the mircowave, and sanctioned cage fighting. Despite this awesome march of human advancement, one lamentable fact remains as true today as it was three decades ago: wearable technology is lame.
If anything, digital watches have actually gotten worse. Consider Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) HP-01 from 1977:
"Time: elusive and immediate...limited yet infinite. Because time is important to you, Hewlett-Packard introduces the HP-01, a new dimension in time management and personal computation.
Hewlett-Packard congratulates you on the acquisition of this fine instrument. We hope you will wear and use it with the same pride that its creators at HP take in this remarkable technical achievement."
The HP-01 retailed for between $500 and $750 depending on what kind of band you chose.
Now compare HP’s 28-key marvel with Samsung’s much-hyped Galaxy Gear from earlier this year
At $300 retail the Galaxy Gear costs less until you realize that it’s more or less useless without a matching phone and monthly service plan. As a freestanding device the Gear is every bit as ugly as the HP-01 and only slightly more useful.
Not to worry says Brian Sozzi of Belus Capital Advisors, we’re only months away from a day science finally cracks the code and produces a wearable tech device that is affordable, useful and socially acceptable. “Wearable tech is going to rain down on retail in 2014,” gushes Sozzi in the attached clip. With this age of the wearable machine will come social media miracles like selfies, email and streaming of every sort. Basically everything a smartphone can do only shrunk down enough to wear with a wristband or on your face.
To be fair wearable tech did take some steps forward this year. Smart bands like the Fitbit Flex or Jawbone’s UP track calories burned, exercise patterns and sleep cycles without too much collateral social damage. It seems possible, indeed likely, that some company is going to be able to make a smartphone that is small enough to be useful as a freestanding device. The real question is why it hasn’t happened so far. Apple (AAPL) has supposedly had revolutionary watches and televisions in the pipeline since before Steve Jobs died and Google (GOOG) is spending billions improving on the admittedly clunky eyewear its been leaking into the marketplace for months.
The potential size of the market is too big to ignore. Sozzi expects to see 50% compounded annual growth for wearables over the next five years. The key to getting there is going to be aesthetics and user interface. “It has to resemble the Nike (NKE) Fuel and not the Samsung Gear," he says.
That would be a start. Sozzi may be right but history suggests there’s no need to be an early adopter of wearable technology. Based on what we’ve seen over the last three decades the prudent consumer is better off sticking with their iPhone for the foreseeable future.