CES 2014: Wearables will be the biggest tech trend of the year

By: Ted Kritsonis

January 10, 2014

Galaxy Gear BMWWearable technology isn’t new, and its increasing presence at CES over the last few years fully symbolizes that, but this year’s show may be the last one that relegates it to just a current trend. Not only are the number of products growing but the innovation involved indicates that this is more than just a passing fad.

What initially started as a simple pedometer years ago has now metastasized into an entire category that features any number of devices ranging from fitness and health wristbands to point-of-view cameras. The spectrum between them is widening to the point that sports equipment, jewelry and vehicles will all figure into the conversation this year and beyond.

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch is being integrated with the all-electric BMW i3 compact car, much like how the rival Pebble will be a part of Mercedes’ rollout of vehicles. The watches will not only be able to control aspects of the car, like remote starting, climate and navigation, but also display diagnostic information that tells the driver how much mileage is left on a charge or gas tank, when the next servicing is due and when to make or take phone calls. We saw this at work in both cases and came away impressed with the possibilities. There would be nothing stopping the watch from being able to control a vehicle’s entire instrument cluster, making it possible to not only heat a car before heading out on a cold day, but to also have the seat heater turn on and navigation pushed to the in-dash unit.

This collaboration all but signals that the litany of wristbands or smartwatches will be about far more than just health and fitness moving forward. The Galaxy Gear may have proven to be a dud since it launched in the fall, but the convenience of wearing something that performs useful functions is only going to get better as convergence grows.

This year’s show has shown that almost any metric or use case isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Devices that helped popularize wearable wristbands, like the Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP are now facing other competitors as varied as Garmin and Sony, both of whom debuted their own wristband devices.

Netatmo June

France-based Netatmo introduced its June bracelet aimed at female consumers. Rather than fitness, the jewel on the top measures how much sunlight the user is subjected to. Too much and warnings about UV exposure and sunburn come up on the accompanying app. Too little and it prods them to get out and soak in some Vitamin D.

SleepPhones has combined a headband with earphones in the past as a sleep aid, and is now adding fitness to its list of products with newer headband designed for wireless use when jogging or going to the gym.

Even in the realm of sports, Reebok will be launching its Checklight skull cap in Canada as early as later this month. The cap has a module and sensor inside that can assess the impact to the head by flashing yellow or red. This would allow coaches or parents to be more aware of the severity and pull players out of the game to diagnose whether or not they suffered a concussion. The cap itself can’t determine if a player has been concussed, nor does it measure any metrics, but it’s one of the few ways one can assess just how heavy a hit was to the head.

Infomation basketball

For something a little less serious but just as practical, there is a $300 basketball called the 94Fifty from Infomotion. A replica of an official ball, the Bluetooth-enabled ball has various sensors in it that when paired with an iOS device and the accompanying app, help a player learn how to dribble and shoot better. While not technically a wearable gadget, the ball is just the beginning for what could be even great integration into other monitors and modules that someone can wear. A wristband from another vendor could conceivably interface with the ball, capturing a series of metrics that combine fitness, health and sporting performance.

Inevitably, some of the vendors in this space may not make it over the next five years, as larger companies eventually go all in with this category and convergence enables devices to do more with less. Netatmo’s idea of a sunlight bracelet is novel, though it could easily be integrated into another similar product. What it does signify is that jewelry and fashion trends will probably play a key role in how this category develops.

Sony Core band

It might seem a little creepy, but all this technology means that your life can be monitored 24 hours a day, giving you a read on just how you live. It might either be an enlightening epiphany or an arduous truth about your lifestyle and habits.

This category began as a way to capture interesting moments with cameras attached to people, and has since evolved to snapshot activity from a fitness and health perspective. Products like Withings’ Aura sleep tracker capture interesting information about how slumbering can really impact your waking hours. Now, there are more and more ways to track just how good or bad those waking hours can actually be.

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