July 16, 2015

Augmented Humanity: What's Up With Wearable Tech?

Two female athletes work out and use an Apple Watch to record their progress.
Athletes using the Apple Watch.  Original Image from Daily Tech.

By Megan G. 

A strange spell has been cast over my family.

At our latest familial gatherings, I have watched my aunts, cousins, and parents marching around the house, wearing trendy wristbands, comparing step counts on their mobile apps, and grumbling in discontent when another person has outpaced them.  What in the world has gotten into my kin?!

The answer, my Tekkie friends, is the allure of wearable technology.  My family has been overtaken by Fitbits, a popular brand of activity trackers… and I’m pretty sure they have secretly decided to get me my own digitized, wrist-encircling overlord.  Oh boy.

A man in a red hoodie shows off his black Fitbit, a popular activity tracker that measures steps, calories, distance traveled, etc.
Fitbit is that Livestrong-esque wristband Mr. Red Hoodie is wearing.  Original image from Apple Insider.

According to Electronics Weekly, many journalists have been declaring each year “the year of wearable tech” since 2013, which saw the release of the Samsung Galaxy Gear.  However, only in 2015 have I actually noticed average people—and by that I mean humans who aren’t overly excited tech developers—readily embrace wearable tech as a norm in their lives.  

For the record, it’s safe to say that if my family knows about a piece of tech, it’s probably reached beyond the niche of technophiles.

Business Insider reports that the wearable tech market could now reach 385 million people!  So, what’s with the change of heart and sudden craze in wearable technology?  According to BI, tech developers can capitalize on popular fitness trends, the idea of the “quantified self,” and brand convergence.  

I would add that the public also is much more open to adopting wearable tech that doesn’t make them look or feel like dorks.  That’s the magic of many wrist wearables.

Wrist Wearables:  Cooler Pedometers and Smartwatches

As Justin wrote in his blog post “Google Glass Shatters:  How Can They Pick up the Pieces?,” people just didn’t feel cool wearing Google Glass.  We’d like to think that functionality wins out over appearances, but let’s be real. 

High school never ends. 

Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, and Karen stare at the camera with concerned expressions with a caption of "Ew"
A potential reaction to wearable tech.  Ignorant, but powerful.
Original image from 

Wrist wearables, on the other hand, have had more luck in the public sphere.  

Admittedly, smart watches like Android Wear and Apple Watch have seen only mild success, according to Business Insider, but are expected to grow in popularity as Apple and Google try to convince consumers of why they actually need them.

Three young dancers showcase Android Wear, a smartwatch made by Google.
Get on it, Google.  Tek Shouts! is watching.  Image from Android.com.

The more popular wrist wearables of the day are fitness-focused activity trackers, like Fitbit.  GPS capabilities, heart rate monitoring, calorie counting, step counting, distance recording—an activity tracker is the miracle baby of a fitness app and pedometer. 

The Fitbit logo next to a graphic of an arrow pointing forward.
Fitbit logo.  Original image from Fitbit.com.

The excitement around fitness-focused devices should come as no surprise.  As societal trends surrounding super foods, supplements, and juicing have shown, people will jump on any bandwagon that guarantees healthier lifestyles—aka “no more roly-poly bellies!”  Activity trackers have fallen in line with the idea of personally driven healthiness and happiness, as this Fitbit TV spot shows.

Fitbit is the top choice for activity trackers at the moment, and that observation isn’t just coming from the folks in my family.  Check out the Activity Tracker page on Amazon.com:

An Amazon shopping page, Wearable Technology:  Activity Trackers, showcasing fitbits as top sellers.
Click to enlarge.

Customers won’t even see another brand of activity tracker until the fifth row of the main shopping page.  Fitbit reigns supreme!  A couple of other brands currently competing for a spot on consumers’ wrists are GPS tech giant Garmin and wearable tech company Jawbone.  

It think it’s cool to see Garmin, a company I thought had bitten the dust with the rise of digital mapping mobile apps, manipulate its GPS technology to stay with the times and create an entirely new product.

More Wearable Goodies

Online shoppers and other interested parties can delight themselves by perusing more sectors of the wearable tech market, such as wearable cameras and even healthcare devices.  

One of the most unique pieces of tech I have come across is a headband called Muse

A young man meditates with Muse, a brain-sensing headband, and his headphones.
A meditation assistant that makes you look like you don’t know how to wear headphones. 
Image from 

Muse is the “brain sensing headband” that tracks brain signals while you meditate.  It then translates those signals into the sounds of wind.  

No, I’m not kidding.  The device tracks your meditation progress and also creates motivational goals on its mobile app to increase your meditative abilities.  

A young woman meditates, using the wearable technology Muse and her headphones to concentrate.
Shh, she’s going to her happy place…
which is probably a secluded theater that only plays
 Magic Mike.  Image from ChooseMuse.com.

Check out the full details on Muse’s How does it work? page. 

How Google Fits In

It wouldn’t be a Tek Shouts! post without a dose of Googleyness!  We’ve written about Android Wear and the latest developments of Google Glass 2.0 on Tek Shouts! before.  However, there is one kind of wearable technology that has slipped under the radar:  Project Jacquard, Google and Levi’s joint effort to create smart-jeans that “make it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms.”

A digital chip next to a specially-designed piece of textile.
A chip and his textile.  Image from Google ATAP’s Project Jacquard page.

The goal of this project?  Well, it comes back to the same purpose behind activity trackers.
According to the head of the Wearables Lab at TE Connectivity Nick Langston, “your garments are going to have intelligence that’s going to be reading information about you… your heart rate or your breathing or your temperature, it’s just going to be taking information from you in a passive way.”  Essentially, Project Jacquard takes all the button-pressing out of tracking fitness and health.
Smart fabrics” would also provide a more accurate reading of a person’s vitals, since clothes are much more in tune with a person’s natural movements than, say, wrist wearables.  The Fitbitters in my family regularly swing their wristband-adorned arms to ensure they achieve the highest-recorded step count possible.  With Project Jacquard, your jeans and shirt would passively record your movements without any extra work from the wearer.

Other fun features of smart clothes could include pressing sleeves to turn lights off and on, activating phones in the same way, and much more.  Check out Project Jacquard’s video on YouTube for more information on this innovative piece of tech.

Are you a part of the wearable craze?  Do you own a smartwatch, fitness tracker, or other kind of device?  Tell the Tek Team about your experiences in the comment section!  

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