TECH

Wearable Technology: The Future Looks Smart (PICTURES)

23/08/2013 17:03 BST | Updated 19/11/2014 09:59 GMT
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A visitor of the 'NEXT Berlin' conference tries out the Google Glass on April 24, 2013 in Berlin. 'NEXT Berlin' describes itself as 'a meeting place for the European digital industry'. Organisers say that at the conference, 'marketing decision-makers and business developers meet technical experts and creative minds to discuss what will be important in the next 12 months'. The conference is running from April 23 to 24, 2013. AFP PHOTO / OLE SPATA / GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read Ole Spata/AFP/Getty Images)

The advancement of credible and genuinely useful wearable technology has been evading developers for decades. Since the comic-strip plainclothes cop, Dick Tracy, was given his first two-way wrist radio in 1946, its transition into the real world has been a slow and relatively uneventful journey. Until now.

By the 1980s, the closest most technophiles had got to wearing sophisticated computer devices on an everyday basis was the Casio calculator watch. And by the 2000s, things hadn't progressed much further - bar the odd officious type with his mobile phone proudly clipped to his belt, in a holster.

But no longer the preserve of science-fiction fantasy and comic-book heroes, wearable technology is finally set to make its leap into the mainstream - from cult hero, Dick Tracy to, well, George Osborne. Yes, the Chancellor snapped wearing the Jawbone Up fitness tracker to record his daily fitness levels (and answer the question on everybody's lips: "How does he sleep at night?") was all the confirmation we needed.

The fitness industry has been one of the first to adapt to the wearable technology trend with the Nike+ Fuelband battling it out with the Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex to be your portable personal trainer of choice.

In other areas, the shift from media hype to mass-market ubiquity has barely begun. But with excitement mounting around the imminent launch of Google Glass and fresh clues emerging as to which major players (Apple, Google, Sony, Samsung...) will be vying to compete with Pebble in the smartwatch space, its momentum is building fast.

Last year Juniper Research produced a report predicting that the 'wearables' market will generate $800m (£500m) in revenue this year and $1.5bn in 2014, largely driven by consumer spending on fitness, multi-functional devices and healthcare.

In another 2012 report, global research and advisory firm, Forrester, described 'wearables' as 'the next wave of consumer technology product innovation' offering targeted advice to product strategists on how to capitalise on the trend.

But while augmented reality glasses, smartwatches and fitness and health trackers are tipped to be the key players in the field, the 'wearables' market goes beyond technology that can be carried on the person. Fashion-with-a-tech-twist, such as LED T-shirts and the world's first Twitter dress, opens up the possibility of a whole new tech-style industry. This is already being exploited as an opportunity to coax more women into the technology business.

The Wearable Technology Conference that took place last month [July 2013] in New York City offered a glimpse of what we can expect to see in the future, after the next raft of launches. From advancements in medical care to 'smart' headgear, the possibilities are endless.

Of course, as with any new technologies, there has been the backlash of skepticism. Privacy concerns around Google Glass were as inevitable as its "creepy" and "weird" rap. In a recent study by US cloud technology company, Rackspace, found that over half (51%) of respondents cited privacy concerns as a barrier to adopting the trend, while 62% thought Google Glass and other wearable devices should be regulated.

But overall the response was largely positive. As many as 81% of UK respondents said that wearable technology had boosted their personal abilities while 63% said it had improved their health and fitness. And while the uptake might be slow, new ways are emerging as to the impact these devices could have on the future of business.

One thing is certain: wearable computing is the most enticing space in the technology business since the smartphone revolution. Below are some of the most innovative 'wearables', both on the scene or in development.

Which ones would you buy? Tell us in the comment box below and let us know which items you'd like to see added to the list.