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Summary:

What does it take for smart wearables to go mainstream? More than you’d think. Not only do the products have to be useful on a daily basis, but they also need the right blend of software support and user experience so they don’t disrupt daily workflow.

The challenges to creating useful, smart wearables start with building devices people will actually use and then figuring out how to build a business around that. Some companies have already overcome those challenges, so is this market having its “iPhone moment” of mass appeal? Not quite, but it’s close said some industry leaders at the GigaOM Mobilize 2013 conference on Thursday.

Soulaiman Itani, Founder and CEO, Atheer Labs put it this way: “Maybe, but even if not, there’s still the whole non-smartphone / cell phone world, which is huge. The challenge is the right moment to hit the public with your wearable device.” Itani’s company is working on augmented reality glasses that offer a 3D view of the world–something that smartphone owners would be more likely to adopt than those who use traditional non-smart handsets.

But timing isn’t just important in product rollouts; you almost need to predict the future for a wearable product during the design phase. Eric Migicovsky, founder of Pebble, explained how that approach led to the wild success for his company’s smartwatch. “In 2008, smartphones changed things for us. Pebble is an accessory to the phone. We recognized that people would be carrying modems in their pocket so we decided to take advantage of that.” Pebble’s observation and foresight are why the product doesn’t have — or need — its own connection.

Of course, for wearables to have sudden popularity, like the iPhone has enjoyed since 2007, wearable products can’t be “tech for tech’s sake,” said Davide Vigano, co-founder and CEO of Heapsylon. Vigano’s company makes a product that may sound mundane — smart socks — but that may be an advantage.

“We don’t want our product to disrupt the consumer workflow. Wearing smart socks, for example, should be no different in the morning than wearing dumb socks: You just put them on.” Sounds boring, right? Yet, Heapsylon has been overwhelmed with interest for apps to go with the product, ranging from fall detection to an Argentinian Tango app.

As smart wearable devices become more mainstream in their look and feel and also offer some daily value, they’ll get closer and closer to their “iPhone moment.” For some of these products, I’d argue that they’re already there.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:


A transcription of the video follows on the next page

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  1. “Necessity is the mother of invention”

    There is too much talk about wearable items without providing a proper context. Coming from a sales background means that I know the only sell product with regularity if it’s addressing a paint point.

    I’m reading a lot of hype about wearables that seems a bit too abstracted from reality. To go mainstream people won’t give you a couple of Ben Franklins unless you are making their life easier. Current wearables offer too much overlap with a smartphone. So really they are only going to seek to geeks and that’s a niche.

    Consumers are going to want it all. Great battery life measured in weeks. Comfort “and” fashion and some sort of killer feature that isn’t available today. If i’m a betting man i’m going to say the first companies that find success will deliver excellent solutions based around location.

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