SAN FRANCISCO — More than half of adults in a recent survey said they don't know what wearable technology is. The survey sent mixed signals on the outlook for the emerging market, according to speakers at the Glazed Developers Conference here.
"The barrier to technology adoption is actually decreasing over time," said John Baird, vice president of marketing for Waggener Edstrom. The communications agency surveyed more than 2,000 people about their interest in wearables. It found that, though most people didn't understand the term, 44% were familiar with brands like FitBit.
Twenty-seven percent of people called themselves early adopters, 80% had a mobile device, and 20% already have a wearable. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said they would purchase a wearable device within the next year.
"This tells me that there is an appetite out there," Baird said. "The biggest challenge is how do I discern between one device and another. Fifty percent of people said they don't see a benefit [from wearables], and 28% said they're satisfied with technology today. Fifty-two percent said they would buy a wearable when they saw its benefit."
Significant wearable adoption is occurring in adults over the age of 45, 31% of whom have a wearable, and among consumers ages 18-34. Though half of those surveyed didn't see a point to the technology, Baird said the younger set associates wearables with intelligence, coolness, and fashion sense. "These stories are starting online, in social media. Then they're going out and influencing behavior."
He dismissed criticisms that people won't adopt wearables unless they're aesthetically pleasing. "I think that fashion evolves. Forty-nine percent of people who own a wearable never take it off… younger consumers see this as a status symbol."
To make wearables more fashion-forward, Intel is courting the fashion industry. Intel vice president Steven Holmes told conference attendees that designers know what consumers want to wear, and they can anticipate their future desires.
"These devices should be something that you're pleased to wear on your body, that it says something about you," Holmes said. "This is as much about us getting educated and educating the fashion industry. The more that we can make the technology accessible to people and the more people can get value out of it quickly, the better."
Wearables will need to cultivate intimacy and immediacy of information, or they risk becoming obsolete, Holmes said. Devices must also be inherently easy to manage -- which might prove a feat in a sector with many small players and proprietary programs.
"There's still a lot of exploration going on and the amount of utility that people are bringing to these products hasn't crossed the threshold of the amount of friction that these products are bringing to people's lives," he said. "At some point, it's easy not to retain them, because I have other ways to get the information."
Holmes said it may be difficult for large companies to create an ecosystem within the wearable market (despite attempts by Intel to do just that). But Kate Drane, design, tech, and hardware lead at Indiegogo, said she has seen major players enter the arena. Companies like Marvell, hoping to make their devices more personal, are following the crowdfunded mentality of many wearable startups.
As larger players enter the market, Misfit Wearables' Sonny Vu said, "days of reckoning" for small startups will follow. A mass of crowdfunded wearable devices will have to prove themselves capable of getting mass consumer traction.
"The good news is that [crowdfunding] gets you a starting point," Vu said. "You can do it. You can have an idea. A lot of it is about product execution, the branding, and the marketing."
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times