Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Wearable computing – computing is about to get very personal

Another couple of hours spent researching the difference between a Jawbone Up, Fitbit Flex and Nike Fuelband helped me decide on the topic for this week’s column. Those names will probably mean nothing to most readers. For those who are into fitness, or just worry about making sure they are getting enough exercise, those names are probably familiar.

They are glorified pedometers, those things given away with healthy breakfast cereals a few years ago that when clipped to your belt told you that you had not walked enough that day. Today they are fully computerised and not only tell you how far you have walked but everything from how many calories you have burnt to even how well you have slept. This is all backed by various apps for your phones and websites where you can further depress yourself on how you are failing in your keep fit targets.

They and those like them are examples of the new trend in wearable computing. The current epitome of which is the Google Glass which looks like a pair of glasses with a small screen over one eye. With it users can access the Internet, take pictures and videos that you can send straight to your Twitter or Facebook account and even have directions up in front of your eye. It’s on limited sale in the US now for $1,500 and will be sold worldwide from the end of this year. It has already created mixed opinions, mainly to do with it making the user looking very, very geeky and also worrying many about personal privacy issues. Some US restaurants are even asking customers wearing them to remove them to protect the privacy of other clientele.

The company that has the real pedigree of changing the way the world uses technology (listening to music, accessing the internet through our phones) has now effectively admitted the long rumoured Apple iWatch. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple stated at the All Things Digital Conference in the US that wearable computers will likely be "another key branch" of the Apple tree adding “the wrist is natural”. When they do release one it will be marketed to a world awash with existing iPhone and iPod users keen and ready to try the new toy. You can also be sure it will only be compatible with iPhones, iPads and iOS devices and not anything Windows or Andriod based. Unsurprisingly therefore, Samsung and others have also announced they too are working on wrist based devices that will work with those operating systems and probably do everything but tell the time.

Where wearable computing will end up is anyone’s guess and I have learnt not to predict.  One example though came from Tom Staggs, the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, who last week announced the MagicBand, a wristband that stores information about consumers' identity and preferences, allowing Disney characters to greet guests by name. The ongoing trends of personalisation, big data and potentially even closer targeting of advertising just continue to get bigger. Whether you think this is exciting or just plain creepy I will leave you to decide. As a marketer I know where I stand, I just need to decide which one to wait for!

Tim Youngman is director of marketing for Archant www.about.me/timyoungman

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