Trend #1: Self-tracking is No Longer the Sole Domain of Hypochondriacs and Fitness Freaks
Thanks to products like the Fitbit and Nike Fuelband, tracking our activity levels has virtually become an “out of the box” experience. By removing the cumbersome complexity of previous products, self-tracking is slowly moving mainstream. And once Apple jumps on the self-tracking bandwagon with its iWatch, even your couch-surfing friends may give tracking a try.
With sensors becoming cheaper, increasing data availability and smartphones virtually in everyone’s pocket, tracking has become technologically easier yet the user experience of many of these wearable gadgets and apps leave much to be desired.
Unfortunately tracking isn’t frictionless. It’s difficult to port our data from product to product; cumbersome to log every cracker we eat; and the metrics from product to product is neither consistent nor precise.
Leslie Ziegler in her talk “Quantified Year: 365 Days of Tracking Everything” observed that these self-monitoring tools brought her to a state of “Mindfulness;” that the act of tracking itself brings a level of self-awareness. Where the products to date fall short, according to Ziegler, is in their ability to actively change behavior.
The next generation of self-monitoring tools will hopefully be seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives so that (1) they don’t detract from it (if I’m logging my data, I’m not enjoying my salad); and (2) will provide actionable feedback that goes beyond leader boards and glossy charts.
Trend #2: Wearable Tech Makes a Fab Marketing Tool
The Google Glass may have stolen the show at SXSW, but Google’s clever marketing experiment the “Talking Shoe” also generated a ton of buzz in the media sphere. Playing upon trend #1, Google partnered with Artist Zach Lieberman and YesYesNo to develop a shoe that “talks back.” Fitted with an accelerometer, gyro and pressure sensors, the shoe is aware of the user’s activity levels and shouts out “motivational messages” that can, of course, be pushed to social media.
Unfortunately the experience of the shoe at the at the Google Playground at SXSW fell rather flat. The playground itself was designed with three distinct areas all encouraging movement and play: a trippy dance hall, an obstacle course, and a basketball court.
For obvious reasons, instead of trying on a shoe, users where provided with a device to strap on to their footwear. Unfortunately the device was a little to clunky and uncomfortable to encourage any real play. Outside of the clumsy early-stage prototype, the main disconnect was experiential. The messages from the “talking shoe” were displayed on color-coded screens overhead. It felt a little odd to jump through hoops while trying to look up to see what your shoe was shouting at you. Without immediate personal feedback, the experiene fell short of it’s promise and acclaimed media buzz.
Regardless of its shortcomings, what this experimental project by Google illuminates is that companies are looking to monetize on the hype of wearable tech to connect with consumers and bring them fun and novel experiences.
Playing on the newness of interactive fashion, I expect that this year many companies will use wearable technology as part of their advertising and marketing campaigns to signify to their consumers that indeed they are “innovative.”
Trend #3: Hardware is Sexy
Typically known for the launch of break-out apps, this year software took a step back while hardware reigned as king. In his opening remarks, MakerBot founder Bre Pettis stated “We’re launching hardware at SXSW . It is the best time to get into hardware. … Join the next industrial revolution.” Pettis launched MakerBot Digitizer, essentially a 3D scanner for small objects, that can be used in conjunction with a MakerBot.
Another significant hardware launch at SXSW was a gestural controller by Leap Motion that was quite an impressive device that I couldn’t resist pre-ordering one. The Leap Motion controller allows you to interface with your computer Minitority Report style. And it works phenomenal well.
Memento, a wearable camera that periodically captures photos, also generated a ton of buzz. This life-logging device plays on trend #1 but surprising avoids the harsh criticism generated by the Google Glass by making a conscious choice to not have facial recognition as part of its feature set.
And lastly, of course, the controversial Google Glass. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the Google Glass.