Moving wearable computing beyond the "beautiful toilet" phase...

Sombit Mishra

ergonomic toiletThere's an interesting post in FastCompany today featuring Amanda Parkes, a designer/engineer with expertise in computational materials, who advocates moving away from novelty gadgets like Fitbit and iWatch towards smart garments and, specifically, interactive textiles.  Interestingly, her company Skinteractive Studios is working with Google to bring these smart materials to life.

It seems that Parkes is most concerned about the "add-on" nature of Fitbit-type wearables. In short, with Fitbits, we're asking the majority of people to wear things they traditionally wouldn't.  In Parkes' world, if we want to truly disrupt the connected device space and make devices more wearable, they need to be embedded in things we already wear without the added burden of maintenance (e.g. recharging battery, wrist-based jewelry, etc.)   

Inasmuch as I agree with Parkes' position that novelty gadgets like Fitbit and iWatch suffer from key wearability challenges such as short battery life, her own starting point of developing smart garments seems to fall victim to a key weakness that gadget wearables do...namely, that they are novelty solutions looking for problems.  

Beyond featuring questionable utility, too many new products fall victim to "need for innovation" syndrome.  Every year, more beautiful toilets come onto the market, but who really wants to pay for that?  For most of us, current toilets do the trick just fine. 

Ultimately, looks matter, but the starting point for introducing new connected wearable computers should be the use cases and business models, not the coolness of innovative technology or its looks. Based on our experience with customers and partners—including QMedic users, family caregivers, and providers—we have mapped prominent tradeoffs that impact sustained use and wearability of connected devices:

Cost-value tradeoffs of wearable computing