When the Apple Watch was launched in April of 2015, the world, and how we live and interact in it, changed in a big way. Technology went from a permanent spot on your desk, to in your pocket and suddenly, attached to your wrist. All you had to do was lift up your hand to call, text, check your emails, post on social media, play music,read the latest news headlines, and almost anything else you could do with a computer or phone.
The Apple Watch was not the first ever wearable technology to be invented, but it’s large-scale introduction to the world got people thinking about the future of technology and the extent to which we felt comfortable incorporating it into our everyday lives. So, what exactly is wearable technology and what other products exist in the space?
- What is meant by Wearable Technology?
- How does Wearable Technology work?
- What can Wearable Technology do?
- What are the benefits of Wearable Technology?
- What are the disadvantages of Wearable Technology?
- What are the limitations of wearable technology?
- What is possible with Wearable Tech?
- How does wearable technology positively affect society?
1. What is meant by Wearable Technology?
Wearable technology is a type of electronic device or equipment that can be worn on the body (i.e. like a wrist watch, a belt, jacket, etc.), implanted in one’s body (i.e. a heart monitor, birth control chips, etc.) or in some cases tattooed on to your body (i.e. a tattoo that lights up or changes colors). What defines wearable technology is the no-hands-needed aspect. Most wearable technologies use microprocessors to function and have the ability to send or receive information using wifi and other internet tools.
The first ever external wearable technology device was invented in 1961 by Edward Thorp and Claude Shannon. It was a four button wrist “watch” that and was originally designed to help them cheat at a game of roulette. But because wearable technology includes tech that is implanted in one’s body, some could argue that the first wearable technology device invented was the pacemaker in 1960, by a group of VA researchers.
Today, the most commonly known and used wearable technology are Smart Watches. Many tech companies have their own version, but the most popular by far is the Apple Watch. Other companies that have their own version of a Smart Watch include Samsung, Garmin, Polar and Fitbit.
Some other examples of wearable technology include:
This includes things like rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc. and are most commonly used as sensors that sync and communicate with a smartphone app to send health information.
Smart clothing has been developed collaboratively by the fashion industry, tech engineers and medical professionals for decades. Today the most common type of Smart Clothing uses special fabrics infused with technology that can track, record and communicate your biometric data.
Over the years, many companies have tried to launch their own version of Smart Glasses. The first company to release this product was Google in 2014 and it did not do well. This specific type of wearable technology has had a low success rate over the years and is still being developed by companies like Facebook, Google, Samsung and more.
2. How does Wearable Technology work?
Wearable technology is powered by microprocessors and sensors that receive, analyze, record and communicate data through contact with the body. The large majority of wearable technology that exists today serves one of two purposes for its users – to record and track health information (even biometrics) or for entertainment/communication.
Wearable technology can be used by many industries for a variety of reasons, but when speaking about wellness (check out this post on the 7 dimensions of personal wellness), corporate wellness, wearable technology can greatly benefit the efficiency and effectiveness of your wellness program or even your wellness challenges. For example, when an employee participating in your wellness program goes for a run, their watch will automatically track things like the distance they ran, their average heart rate for the run, how fast they ran and the location of the run. This can serve as a great method for verifying employee’s activities and help to accurately distribute incentives.
If you aren’t offering a wellness program already, you may want to consider investing in the employee experience, so that you can boost employee engagement, in turn helping you improve your recruitment and retention efforts! There are many types of employee benefits that you can implement in a wellness program, so you can build a program that is tailored to your organizations’ culture!
3. What can Wearable Technology do?
At the moment, wearable technology serves many purposes, but in comparison to other types of technology, it is a newer medium that is still being developed and experimented with. The most common uses for wearable technology (as we stated earlier) are for helping to monitor and alert the wearer about their personal health information or for social communication purposes – like calling, texting, social media, etc.
But there are other purposes and possible functions of wearable technology that many people are unaware of. Wearable technology can be used to improve and treat mental health issues like depression and anxiety. These devices usually come in the form of a wristband that sends periodic electric pulses to either remind you to think, feel or do something or to
4. What are the benefits of Wearable Technology?
The way society has benefited from the advancement of wearable technology is clear. For example, the pacemaker has saved thousands of lives since its invention in 1960. A great and more modern example is the Apple Watch.
Recently, Apple released an ad featuring the audio of a 911 call that a surfer who got dragged out too far in the ocean made on his Apple Watch. The ad shows direct proof of how their product saved this man’s life. But what are some of the other benefits that wearable technology can provide in our everyday lives?
Wearable technology can help increase productivity. When the device is attached to your wrist, all you have to do is lift it up and press a button as opposed to walking over to a phone or computer. It sounds menial, but wearable technology can help things get done quicker and save you accumulated time.
A great benefit for employers, especially employers currently facilitating or looking to implement a company wellness program, wearable technology is a great tool to track employee health information and activity. Wellness programs in turn help employers improve key population health metrics.
Lastly, for obvious reasons, wearable technology can help keep people safe. As the example of the surfer using his Apple Watch shows, not only was he able to use his watch to call for help, they were able to track his exact location in the middle of the ocean. Things would have gone very differently for him had he not been wearing his device and this is a great example of how wearable technology can help keep people safe in many ways.
5. What are the disadvantages of Wearable Technology?
As positively impactful and innovative as wearable technology can be, there are some downsides.
- Wearable technology is expensive and not accessible to everyone which can further impact pre-existing societal class issues.
- Wearable technology is often not a stand-alone device. Most wearable devices need to be connected to a second or multiple devices or be able to send information and communicate with another piece of technology to reach full functionality.
- Wearable technology may have risks regarding your personal safety. Because the device is attached to your body, someone may be able to access data like your location, health information, etc.
- Most of the time, wearables will track and report all of your health information, not just what you pick and choose. This may raise concerns about privacy if this information gets into the wrong hands.
- There is a limit to what wearable technology can do because of its size limitations. We can’t be walking around with full-sized computers on our wrists. But because screens and buttons and other aspects of the devices have to be small, some of the functionality we get from larger devices iis limited.
- There is already a general concern that people are on their phones too much. Because of its highly accessible and “always on” nature, wearable technology can be distracting and time-consuming.
The disadvantages of wearable technology have more to do with the mental effects on society and perceptions people have about how evolving technology is taking away from the “human” parts of humans.
6. What are the limitations of wearable technology?
Wearable technology is still being developed in many aspects. For example, many companies have released Smart Glasses or eyewear and failed when it came to getting people to actually buy the product. Many are still trying to pinpoint what exactly about the product is making consumers hesitant to purchase this product, but no one’s seemed to find the answer quite yet.
We briefly went over some of the limitations imposed by wearable technology above, but
7. What is possible with wearable technology?
What we know as modern wearable technology today is a more recently normalized concept in comparison to some of the every day technology we’ve all been using for decades (i.e. televisions, computers, cell phones).
When we think about all the advancements we’ve made with the cell phone alone in just the past 40 years, the possibilities of where we can go with “wearables” can seem endless. Currently, many devices are used to track, record, analyse and communicate health information. In recent years, great strides have been made in using wearable technology to actually treat physical and mental health conditions.
A study from Frontiers shows how wearable technology was able to treat a group of patients depression symptoms through wearable devices such as patches, photoplethysmography sensors and other devices used to sensor heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Although this study shows how these devices helped measure and treat depression symptoms in patients, it acknowledges that technology used for this purpose still has a long way to go.
Another interesting form of wearable technology that is still evolving are Smart Tattoos.
Although the name make it sound this way, Smart tattoos use are not actual tattoos applied with needles and ink. Smart tattoos are more like stickers or patches that are applied to the skin externally and will eventually wear off after a few days or weeks. The intended functionality of these “tattoos” are to help track, indicate or alert the person wearing them about certain health issues. Some are even intended for more personal enjoyment reasons like fashion, communication and self-expression.
This research project by Microsoft shows how industry leaders are experimenting with and developing the concept of wearable tech tattoos.
8. How does wearable technology positively affect society?
Every type of technology ever developed has had both a negative and positive impact on society and our planet. Wearable technology is not excluded from this fact. Many people fear that the advancement of technology, especially technology that is increasingly accessible, prevalent and closer to our bodies, will have a negative impact on our ability to connect, interact and manage our mental health.
On the flip side, wearable technology serves many benefits to society that have saved many lives.
We can’t stop the advancement of technology. If someone knows how to create something that has the ability to save lives or make people’s lives easier, they will. The only thing that the majority of us can control is how we use technology and the way we let ourselves feel about it. The advancement of technology can drastically improve our world if implemented and used responsibly.