It is important to separate the over-hyped functionality from the reality, which is still fabulously exciting
Though smartphones and smart wearables have proliferated in recent years, and the sensors that equip them are getting astonishingly accurate, wearable gadgets continue to be clumsy and off putting to users. In fact, studies have shown that one-third of customers who buy smart gear leave it in the dust on their bedside after a month.
Unfortunately, science fiction ideas have pushed customer expectations to an absurdly high level, and have raised the bar for any wearable company. Still, it is important to separate the over-hyped functionality from the reality, which is still fabulously exciting.
When it comes to batteries, the bigger it is, the higher capacity it has. Buyers are looking for wearables with newer sensors and technology, which may consume a lot more power. With more features, daily charging of the gadget becomes a norm.
You may have heard about printed, paper-thin batteries. But since the capacity of the battery is directly proportional to its size, it may not be able to provide enough power, at least not until a substantial breakthrough is discovered in the market. Until then, expect daily charging of these wearables if they are more than a pedometer.
The concept of invisible and unnoticeable wearables have been hyped so much that it has fed into the announcements of tattoo or stamp-sized and flexible sensors that stick to your skin and collect bio-information from it. The reality is far different.
Sensors are not complete systems — they only capture data. The device will still need something to process that data and transmit it wirelessly. This clearly requires power to do all the processing and transmission, and often some amount of memory to store that data until it is transferred. Integrating a minuscule processor, wireless transmitter, and memory into this super thin device contradicts the notion of invisibility. Flexible screens and ultra-thin sensors are real, but not ready to be a part of invisible gear yet.
Alternate power sources
Some of the possible solutions to the battery problem are solar panels, kinetic motion, and thermo-electric generators. However, each method has its limits.
With solar panels, size and efficiency hold back its application. Though recharging with kinetic motion, which includes your body movements, is supported by more accurate Piezo technology, it is still not efficient enough. And thermo-electric generators work on temperature differences that require at least a 10-degree Celsius difference between the wearable and the atmospheric temperature. It is like streaming a video from your wearable in a snowstorm.
While a lot of research has been done in this space lately, do not expect any big effect on your recharging needs in the near future.
Fashion and smart apparel
You might have heard designers buzzing about tech-infused clothes and accessories. Smart rings and necklaces, clothes with digital screens and muscle-strain sensors are some of the innovations in this vertical. However, there are some usability problems with these tech clothes.
First, the concept of fashion is based on the fact that you do not wear the same clothes or jewelry two days in a row. This raises questions like whether these sensors can be removed? Are they flexible enough to switch from one dress to another? Will you remember to attach them to your new outfit? These are some issues that both fashion and tech companies need to take into consideration.
There are some incredible brands and products just round the corner, but like any industry, it will take years to bring the most advanced systems to the market. But, for now, let us just keep up the faith.
The views expressed are of the author.
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