9 trends to watch for in wearable tech

The wearables business is gaining momentum and is one of the most exciting markets of the digital age. We at Koru decided to share some of the key trends we believe will emerge this year. To quote Gary Hamel, a hero of mine: today’s niche markets are tomorrow’s mass markets.


Watches enjoy a renaissance as accessories

A host of connected smart watches will emerge in 2013, with the phone becoming a new digital hub in this “personal body network.” Media poster child Pebble will be the tipping point for early adopters, while MuteWatch 2.0 looks likely to push functionality to new levels.
But creators face tough product choices between form and functionality, making 2013 the most interesting year in watches for decades. Meta Watch, for example, has taken the path of following form instincts, while Basis chases a pure functionality route. For the past 80 years form has won — will 2013 turn things in the other direction for watches?
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Smart watch makers could stumble on a killer app
  • Will touch disrupt the market with exciting experiences?
  • Can Casio, Suunto and Polar shake their complex button legacies?
  • How will Swatch react?

Jawbone Up

Functional jewelry as armbands takes off

The functional arm and wristbands pioneered by Nike FuelBand and Jawbone Up are setting a powerful trend and sidestepping the functional and aesthetic legacy of wristwatches. A flood of new wristbands is emerging such as Disney World’s Magic Band, which stores guest information and acts as ticket, room key, ride pass and more.
The smartest bands will track a user’s pulse, sleep patterns and more, helping to paint a holistic picture of wellness. However, a high degree of style will become increasingly important as functionality becomes standardized. Luxury brands like Vertu will create iPhone accessories costing far more than any phone. But flexible or curved ultra-bright OLED screens remain in the lab for another year.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Luxury brands enter the functional armband space
  • Waterproof designs
  • Personalisation and “charm” style options
  • Wrist-based pulse sensors

Monster Miles Davis headphones

Audio wearables shape luxury electronics

Prominent headphones have become a must-have accessory of the street-smart digerati, while in-ear systems are also pushing looks and fidelity to new levels. Now the pre-existing luxury brands are taking notice of these shifts. But changing the distribution landscape will be a challenge, and the traditional pure audio brands will start to feel the squeeze.
New high-end edgy brands like MonsterJawbone and Parrot are shaping the market, while Logitech UE will continue to make a dent with a great price/quality/style ratio. The high margins of a luxury product, combined with niche tech desirability, is the goal.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Will luxury brands market themselves in the electronics sector?
  • Will the breadth of the $250+ headsets grow?


Sensors connect our everyday objects

Retro-fitting smartness into everyday objects is one of the most fascinating trends we will be living through. It’s where the Internet of Things and wearable technology converge.
The beauty of this is that it gives users the power to decide which objects should be made smart, and developers can create the optimal software to track it: keys, a jacket – even your car.
Pill-shaped, cube-shaped and stickers will be typical form factors. The Nike+ sensor pills were simply the “Neanderthal” stage of this development. Bluetooth 4.0 is a crucial enabler, taking everyday objects into a new world.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Pioneering telecom companies to launch early solutions.
  • Value to be unlocked in visualizing data based on objects around us.

Misfit Shine

Wearables get dressed up

The Fitbit Zip (see disclosure below) and Misfit Shine are the first generation of transformational wearables that can be “dressed” with covers and ornamentation. We’ll see this trend rapidly extend to more products: for example, footwear covers for bicycling, or watertight wristband covers for swimming, as well as style-driven covers for social situations.
Initially the covers will be non-functional, but eventually they will inform the wearable inside, enabling instant adaptation of sensor software. We will see covers become more valuable than the sensors they encase.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Hobbyists produce covers for online sale.
  • Jewellery partnerships for style covers emerge.


Sensor platform wars begin in the bedroom

The quantified self movement is the living lab of the wearables business, with thousands of personal guinea pigs tracking everything in their lives. Its impact in shaping the next data agenda will be crucial as privacy concerns grow. Owning a personal data platform is seen as a strategic control point, but monetization remains unclear.
There is the question of who owns the habit-creating interface. Withings’ smart scale has moved into the bedroom, aiming to shape daily habits and becoming a clear trendsetter here. My data, and how can it be used, remains in flux, as handsets strive to gather ever richer levels of information.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • How are proprietary platforms of Nike, Fitbit and Withings opening up to developers?
  • Will platforms like Evernote create Evernote Life?
  • Can open source platforms gain momentum in time?
  • Will we see context-aware phones in the second half of 2013?

Jawbone Up app

Apps make wearables’ data actionable

Wearables will also begin to disrupt app development. This has already started with fitness apps, and is set to branch out to life recording and social features. And although users may perceive the cloud and the PC interface as mainly a passive back-up for their data, these will also become crucial for community data analysis and social media enablement.
Development platforms are now mature, and will soon provide additional sensors for data collection. The phone becomes the new digital hub, as its bigger canvas allows for more personality and a bigger overview, and high-resolution screens help enable rich data visualizations.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Jawbone UP app overhaul
  • Popular apps get sensor front ends (home sensors, scales, bike pods)
  • Will leading app creators like RunKeeper create own line of wearables to increase loyalty?
  • Will Facebook come to you, on a wearable?

Muse headband

Sensors in labs reveal our souls

Sensor development is exploding in labs and startups around the world. For example, the Muse headband provides a real-time view of the brain emotionally shaping your e-mails, while the Vibe necklace shows your stress levels — and these are just the beginning.
We will see 6-axis and 9-axis accelerometers. New forms of wrist based pulse sensors will make pulse reading an everyday thing. Hacks of favorite objects will emerge in new forms like Oyster card rings. These are providing inspiration for the future and most importantly they are simply ideal platforms for learning.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • How will the ear be used as a sensor hub?
  • Will we see the first flexible display in 2013?
  • Will we change our habits from 5,000 readings per second?

Sergey Brin Google Glass

Google glass becomes a social transformer

Transforming sunglasses from a fashion accessory into a functional interface will herald a social revolution. Google’s decision to build Project Glass “in public” is a brave one, as changing consumer perceptions will take years. That’s partly because the intimacy of an embedded user interface transforms all our perceptions of privacy. We can’t assume that everyone will readily accept being recorded all the time, or will welcome the idea of an interface between them and the world at every point.
Hopefully Google will have the patience to persevere, while inviting early adopters to participate in 2013 should steer Project Glass in new creative directions.
What to watch for in 2013:

  • Reactions from the earliest adopters
  • Direction, size and profile of the privacy movement
  • User behaviour around recording and recollection
  • Response from developers
  • How will Luxottica react?
Christian Lindholm is the CEO and co-Founder of Korulab, a wearables company based in Finland. Follow him on Twitter @clindholm, or his personal site,  www.christianlindholm.com.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.