Welcome to Tête-à-Tête, a series where two of our writers converse on interesting topics in the mobile landscape — through chat. Think of it as a podcast for readers.
This week, Daniel and Douglas debate whether 2015 will be the year wearables finally matter, and come to the same likely conclusion.
Douglas Soltys: Daniel, I have returned to you from holiday, refreshed and reinvigorated, and reflecting on the future.
At WEST Conference this week, wearables were all the rage. And not in a 2014, “hey you can put electronics on your wrist!” way, but a very 2015, “look at the amazing things wearables can do” way. We all know that the Apple Watch is coming, but the tech displayed and topics discussed at WEST demonstrated that the wearable space can be more than just smartwatches (although I was pleasantly surprised to finally see an app that made Android Wear seem useful for something other than notification triage).
Daniel, you were a panel moderator at WEST, which tracks the intersection of wearables with sports and entertainment. What does that intersection look like in the coming year?
Daniel Bader: Douglas, it’s been too long, my friend. These Tête-à-Têtes are what keeps me from drinking my way through the week.*
I had a great time moderating a panel on how wearables are affecting the music industry, where I spoke extensively to Subpac co-founder Todd Chernecki on how his company’s ultra-accurate, portable subwoofers are changing electronic musician creation, and presentation, for the better. Subpac is just one example of a company creating solutions to niche problems, but with enough investor and consumer interest that unlike years past the company is guaranteed a future.
That’s why I think next year is the real beginning of the wearable revolution, and it’s not in the way you’d think: the smartwatch is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Like smartphones, smartwatches will likely be central hubs for other wearables, many of which will be sewn into our clothing and built into our shoes.
The best wearables will be the ones that augment our senses, and use our body data to improve our lives — things that smartphones and smartwatches alone cannot accomplish. While I’m excited about virtual reality, what are you most excited about in the wearable space in 2015?
Douglas: As I have gotten older, recognizing that my time on this earth is ever-fleeting, I have lost interest in escapism, so VR/AR, while cool, appeals less to me. I also have little interest in DMs of any kind, so wearables that help me tweak out during the bass drop are also unappealing.
I am, however, quite interested in getting this flesh-sack of mine over the finish line of life in as good of a condition as I can manage. Therefore, it’s the second generation of health and fitness wearables – which will actually be able to read my biometrics than offer an educated guess – paired with one home repository for that information (most likely Apple Health) that I’m most excited. In 2015, I want wearables that will tell me more about myself, so I can be a better me. In the interim, I will accept apps that improve my jump shot.
Why do you care so much about VR? Are you so eager to take the blue pill?
Daniel: I guess because I see your health and fitness idealism and raise you a dose of surrealism. For the same reasons I value running outside more than slithering my life away on a treadmill, I want to use VR as a way to augment my sometimes-monotonous life.
The VR space is so interesting to me because of its potential to educate, to motivate and to break down walls that we put up for ourselves. I’m terrified of jumping out of a plane, but I’d probably be less so if I was able to sample a taste of that feeling using virtual reality. I’m also pretty interested in running a triathlon during my lifetime, and being able to strap on a pair of VR glasses and work through my pain with a virtual training program appeals to me. It doesn’t solve the problems themselves, but it makes them considerably easier to bear.
Wearables in the health and fitness space, though, will continue to gain the most public attention because that is the crossover between brand marketing, science and consumer need. People want more ways to stay fit more easily, and wearables either make the experience more fulfilling — more and better data of one’s workout — or less onerous. Either way, it’s a small investment for fitness enthusiasts.
I envision, in the not-too-distant future, a time where VR, gaming, music, fitness wearables and smartphones work together to achieve a single goal of making us less stupid, less unhappy and less lazy. I want these things for myself, and am willing to pay to get there.
I don’t see it as a shortcut, but a different path to reaching the same goal.
Douglas: Anything that makes life more surreal, I’m in favour of. Ok, so the future is nowish, but is it right now? Do you think 2015 will see VR headsets break out with the mass consumer in any conceivable way? If not, what will be the first wearable device that consumers adopt en masse? Common sense would say the Apple Watch, but I’m not so sure. It will be expensive, and the immediate use cases and life benefits are not as obvious as the iPhone when it was first introduced.
Daniel: I do think it will be Apple Watch, at least for the people who don’t ordinarily follow the tech trends. The entry-level Apple Watch will cost just less than a cheap iPad, and will certainly be on the gift list of every hardbody with an iPhone. There’s a prevailing thought that Apple’s entry into a market usually corresponds with its maturity, since the company rarely does something until consumer sentiment hits a crescendo, but considering wearables have already been floating around in the ether for a couple of years, I’d wager Apple Watch will be a different beast altogether.
Like the original iPhone and iPad, I’d wager the second- and third-generation Watch will be the one to really buy, but Apple’s done this so many times already people know they want it, even if they don’t know why.