Go Go Gadgets

Makers of “wearable tech” have captured consumers’ imaginations – and wallets.

The Apple Watch will be hitting stores early this year, perhaps as soon as March. Along with the buzz that comes with any new iProduct, the Apple Watch will undoubtedly bring a wave of attention toward an emerging consumer electronics industry – wearable technology.

Sales of wearable devices are projected to generate $5.1 billion in revenue in 2015, a 133 percent increase from 2014, according to a January report from the Consumer Electronics Association.

The biggest piece driving this increase are health and fitness devices, expected to be a nearly $2 billion industry on its own. A recent survey by Accenture found that 8 percent of respondents planned to purchase a wearable fitness monitor within the next year, and 40 percent planned a purchase within the next five years.

By far the most popular of these wearable fitness monitors, with 67 percent market share, is the Fitbit, the now near-ubiquitous personal movement sensor that arrived in 2008, which tracks and digitally logs everything from the number of steps throughout the course of the day to to your sleep patterns during the night. As the company has grown, its range of products has expanded from a clip-on tracker (now roughly $50) to wristbands (ranging from $100 to $130) to its Super Watch ($150 to $250), which was introduced in January.

More and more options like this are continuing to flood the marketplace, and the bridge from wearable fitness monitors like Fitbit to more advanced watch-like devices capable of a variety of functions is clearly being built, as tech giants like Samsung, Google, Sony, Motorola and LG, in addition to Apple, continue to move into the smartwatch arena and work to integrate these new products with existing offerings. For example, the Apple Watch will integrate with Siri, iTunes, Apple TV, maps and Apple Pay, as many other smartwatch products, including Samsung’s Gear line, integrate with all things Android.

But with smartwatches still in their relative infancy, they are expensive, with the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S both costing in the $350 range. More affordable options – Lenovo’s new Vibe Band VB10 ($89), and the Pebble Watch ($99) – are out there, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be adopted by a mass audience. Samsung, for one, appears to be targeting a wealthier crowd with late-2014 comments saying wearables will “create a new era of power dressing for business leaders.”

Parts of the wearable tech universe do seem downright obnoxious. Google Glass fits this description. The $1,500 Internet-connected eyewear has been met with a great deal of criticism – including major ones surrounding privacy and security – since its 2013 introduction, and that’s without factoring in how difficult it is to take seriously a person wearing the device. Nevertheless, Google is now working with Intel on a new version of the device that’s expected in 2015.

Will devices like Glass ever make their way into the mainstream? Who knows? But that’s not stopping the tech world from venturing even further into the world of wearable tech. This year’s annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has produced countless reports on wearables gaining traction. Some examples of these new products fall in line with a natural evolution of the technology – new competitors for certain products, an added bell or whistle here or there – but some are, if nothing else, wildly imaginative.

Intel showed off a small drone worn on the wrist that can be launched into the air, and a button-sized computer built to power wearables of all kinds. Misfit developed a fitness tracker covered in Swarovski crystals. U.K. startup Pacif-i debuted a “smart pacifier” that measures a baby’s body temperature. There’s a nylon jacket built for cyclists, from Visijax, that comes equipped with a variety of LED signal lights. There’s the new Kickstarter-funded device called the Ring, which allows users to control electronics with the wave of a hand. There’s even a wearable for dogs – the collar-mounted Motorola Scout 5000 that shows owners a live video stream of their pup.

There are a few things here I wouldn’t mind trying on. But you probably won’t see me lining up to buy my 6-month-old puppy a shiny new camera to wear around her neck. Not at $200.

This story appears in the February, 2015, issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to subscribe.



Dan Shafer was the digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Dan joined the magazine as assistant editor in 2014 and wrote the November 2014 cover story, "Downtown Horizons." He's worked as a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee and an editor at ThirdCoast Digest. Contact him at daniel.shafer@milwaukeemag.com. He's on Twitter @danshaferMKE.