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45% ANNUAL GROWTH, OR ALL THE ELECTRONICS YOU CAN WEAR

I was talking to a friend the other day.

He complained a lot.

Of course, neither of these two facts is special in itself in any way. But his face, our conversation and his complaining have lodged themselves firmly in my mind. So I thought I must get it out of my system here.

A patron of the Krynica boardwalk (he attends the Economic Forum here every autumn), he is not a runner himself. An expanding waistline and drooping shoulders suggest he’s given up on sports. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t use his smartphone calendar; I bet he wouldn’t know how to sync it with his computer, to say nothing of being able to add to it any dates he has received by email.

I’m sure you know such people – permanently grouching about technological progress. Constantly asking the same stupid question: what use is another calendar in your phone – we’ve had calendars and memo pads aplenty since time immemorial. You know the type – the sort of person who admits the world did move on when they themselves were able to embrace the change (i.e. when they were young), but for it to change now, well, that’s a bit too much, isn’t it?

People like him are miffed because they are asked to pay for something. Some things are useless, they say. They will have you know that this or that device was built as part of some sort of conspiracy against them. A conspiracy designed to rip them off. The fact that the price is proportionally less high than the prices of such devices in the previous generation while its capabilities far outstrip those of the latter is of no consequence to them. They are convinced that these new capabilities add no real value.

The likes of him feel permanently frustrated. They can’t make full use of new products. Rather than being happy with the navigation system fitted in their car, which they can use should the need arise, they complain that satnav degrades their natural navigational skills.

They can’t get it into their heads that it is all about freedom to choose. To use or not to use the technology. That no technology means no choice.

And that there is nothing wrong in some people simply enjoying using technology. Another friend of mine told me how useful in losing weight he had found the smart wristband he’d been wearing. The wristband was connected with his phone, his computer and his scales. He wouldn’t have lost weight, he says, if it had not been for the ruthlessness with which the wearable sensors streamed unflattering data to the system, forcing him to work harder.

There is nothing special either about the fact that those of us who haven’t folded their arms in utter resignation keep running, compete against one another thanks to the wearable sensors streaming data which is synchronized with a website on which you can compare the distance and the time you’ve run it in with that of your friends. Or check their favourite running routes, especially when they are staying away on business in other cities.

Luddites can mock Google Glass – glasses which enable you to see data when you need it but not when you’re taking some device out of your pocket or a bag. They can mock Google Goggle, an application which a good few years ago brought us a semblance of augmented reality, whereby you can recognize an object captured by your smartphone camera on the basis of photos that had been posted on the internet. Why? Well, what kind of a tourist is a tourist who hasn’t done his homework before setting out on a sightseeing tour!

Mockery abates though when we look at the forecasts: IDC says markets this year will see a total of 45 million wearable devices, a negligible 133% more than in 2014. In 2019 as many as 126 million of various devices of this kind will be for sale, a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 45%.

What will account for this growth? Suppose all kinds of sensors in wristbands or smart watches were only a passing fad. If there are no “serious” applications, there will be no demand, critics of advanced technologies say. But it doesn’t take much imagination, really not much, to spot a whole raft of serious applications.

Medicine and health care seem to be today’s big issues alongside fitness. So, we are really talking about fitness but far more specifically and far more seriously. The Internet of Things is going to push development in this direction. And even though most pensioners today who suffer from hypertension can’t afford a blood pressure monitor which stores data in a cloud, which in turn could be accessed by their cardiologists, we only have to look back in order to see what the future holds: not so long ago a mobile phone was a luxury item. Besides, the new generation of pensioners will be so at ease with new technologies that a blood pressure monitor without cloud data storage will seem an anachronism to them.

Whingers like the one in Krynica aside, I predict that the market for smart wearables will continue to grow. That it will eventually become a mass market. Of course, convenience carries a price tag, if only in terms of invasion of privacy whereby all these wearable devices are interconnected within the Internet of Things. But there is always a price to pay, on top of the retail price, of course.

Some figures on the wearables market:
http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS25519615

Polish readers will find some general information about wearables on the Gazeta Wyborcza website:
http://wyborcza.biz/biznes/1,100896,18660784,rekordowy-wzrost-rynku-wearables-sukces-smart-watcha.html?ssoPermanentSessionId=12a4d1512a0d50dc958ec2fb3995fba6e6e38076f330d67dc3d668eec75c85fc

Some fascinating facts to close with: something I’d call an un-wearable, that is the opposite of a wearable device. This contraption takes you where you are not physically present. Check it out:
http://www.wired.com/2015/09/my-life-as-a-robot-double-robotics-telecommuting-longread/

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