Wearables Cautionary Tale

on March 11, 2014

Like many new industries, the smart wearables market is filled with lots of startups looking to create interesting new products and build a successful business. Unlike previous hot trend markets, however, the launch of the wearables market also happened to coincide with the rise of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It’s a fortuitous combination at many levels, because several of the unique characteristics of the wearables market—including the need for lots of experimentation, small production runs, modest price points, strong interest in personalization and customization, and the cutting-edge technology aspect of the devices—are a perfect match for individuals who peruse those sites, looking for the latest thing. Several of the more successful, or at least more interesting, wearables have indeed been launched on these sites, including the Pebble Smart Watch.

But having done a fair bit of digging around for new smart wearable devices on some of these sites, I’ve also come across a few products that have stretched credibility too far. I suppose that’s probably true of virtually anything that’s being showcased at these sites—it’s definitely a buyer beware type of environment—but I’m more sensitive to and cognizant of the tech-related products.[pullquote]Having done a fair bit of digging around for new smart wearable devices on crowdsourcing sites, I’ve come across a few products that have stretched credibility too far.”[/pullquote]

I’ve seen images and watched videos of supposed product demonstrations that were—to my eyes at least—pretty “doctored” up. I’m not going to name any specific names, but there are some tell-tale signs to be on the lookout for. In my case, being an analyst who has covered display technologies for many years and as someone who continues to follow those developments very closely, it was the displays that were the dead giveaways. For example, no one is mass producing a high-resolution, bendable color display that will wrap around even a good portion of your wrist. So, when I saw very attractive images of smart watches/smart bracelets that essentially consisted of exactly that, I knew that was a big red flag. In one case, the company representatives acknowledged that their prototypes only had black-and-white displays and seemed to imply they were lower resolution—which was likely true—but you had to read through a fair bit of material before you got to that rather important detail.

Similarly, some of the demonstrations I’ve seen of smart glasses show resolutions that are clearly much higher than current microprojection displays can achieve. The LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) display in Google Glass, for example, is only 640 x 360, which is less than good ol’ VGA resolution.

The challenge is that there are lots of great low-cost tools for doing high-resolution, lifelike 3D rendering and video special effects that even Hollywood specialists would have killed for just a few years ago. With enough time and talent, creative people can create their own “Minority Report” views of the world and the products that fit in them. Think about how many impressive “artist renditions” we’ve seen of forthcoming Apple or Samsung or Sony products, which sprang entirely from the minds of their creators with the help of some useful software.

I’m certainly not trying to imply that all, or even a large percentage, of the cool new products you see on crowd-sourced sites are a bit “juiced,” but as my mom and your mom probably used to say, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”