Soulless: Why wearables aren’t living up to the hype…yet

It’s no secret that wearables are struggling. Brand after brand touts that it is launching a “new and innovative” smart wearable that will “revolutionize” the category. But whether “new and innovative” products are smartwatches or spectacles, they have yet to succeed at delivering on their promise.

Even so, the wearables market is projected to reach $150 billion annually by 2027! Is this booming wearables market just a pipe dream? Not necessarily. We see an exciting future ahead for wearables.

For instance, smartwatches are upping their fashion game in a big way, but they are focusing on repackaging the same technology and services. What they should be doing is thinking through new functionality and what technology capabilities are of more value for a “computer on your wrist.” We’re solving the wrong problem, or at least only one problem. Right now, even though the watch might look better to wear, the functionality doesn’t really add long-term value that will keep us wearing it. In fact, one could argue that smartwatches are adding even more anxiety to our already stressful lives. With every e-mail alert from an angry boss, reminder of unpaid bills, or unfavorable news alert, our focus on productivity and staying “in the know” is making it harder to stay focused on the things that really matter in life.

We may sleep with our phones at our bedsides and keep them close at hand throughout the day, but this is driven by necessity. Fitness trackers are kitschy and cool at first but after a few weeks of use often end up stashed in a drawer because their value is limited. It only takes a week or two to understand how many steps you take throughout a day, but then what? As David Rose says in Enchanted Objects, so many technologies today “are cumbersome, confusing, and inelegant…tech things that we tolerate or use out of necessity, but [which] fail to spark our imagination and engender our love.” 

By contrast, the heirloom watch passed down over generations, the favorite earrings gifted by a spouse or child, the power suit that fits as if custom-tailored are all routinely given space because they make us feel loved, connected, unstoppable. It’s these feelings that wearables should inspire through both how they look and what they do.

To meet the expectations for the category, wearables will need to focus on more than repackaging a set bundle of existing features. They will need a much more compelling user experience and story that give them sentimental value and that make people fall in love with them. There is an exciting opportunity around sentiment and connection that can drive dynamic, engaging features and lust-worthy form factors. But, companies must remember that they are designing products that compete for the most intimate and finite real estate: the human body.

The future of innovation, in the wearable space, will be driven by the stories brands and technologists tell and by the stories they inspire and enable their users to tell. Revolutionary innovation is not limited to the lofty Elon Musk SpaceX or the Google moonshot. Simply bringing joy and solving simple problems that seamlessly integrate into people’s lives will just as fully capture consumers’ hearts and imaginations.

Innovation that tangibly changes lives builds on what we know and moves us one step forward and one step closer to each other. Consumers will allow you into their daily lives and the very fabric of themselves, if you inspire them; if you touch a deeper desire; if you speak to how they see themselves; if you align with their aspirational selves.

We strongly believe the wearable market can live up to, if not surpass, the hype, but its resurgence must be heart-led — utility is a given, we must speak to users’ emotions to inspire. In our next post, we’ll explore what heart-led innovation means and how it can be applied to wearables.

~ The Purple Team