Consumer of the Future: What You Really Want Is A Wearable Computer

Crunch. As I dropped my Nexus S, an handy 4.6 oz Google smartphone on the Manhattan sidewalk, I winced at that the cracked touch screen that paralleled with a crack of my digital loving heart. Immediately, I bought the Google Nexus 4 (currently sold out).

But when I started seeing people on the New York City subway carrying the iPad Mini, I wanted it badly. But having just purchased the Nexus 4 and owning multiple iPads, I cannot really justify the purchase of a smaller tablet. While this is unquestionably a first world problem, it underscores the consumer’s confusion on when making purchasing decisions in the mobile device space.

Being Mobile Is Not Enough

The 3.5-inch touch screen phone was the form factor that changed mobile, but typing on a 3.5 inch touchscreen requires squinting and is not easy for children or elderly, which is a serious usability issue.

A way to avoid that is by using voice commands and search. We have been accustomed to voice interaction from XBox control to various apps with such features. For example, Evernote has voice translation and Google has made search available by with a phone call for a long time now.

If voice search and commands are optimized, why do I need a screen except when I want to type and to write? Instead of pressing fat figures on little keys, what we really is a keyboard that is part of my body that I can type on…maybe that can be my forearm. The more important question is why is computer interaction still so divorced from the way we interact with the natural physical world? Touch interface has been a huge move in that direction, but we are not there yet. The devices still stop us in the middle of street, as a poignant reminder that the current interfaces stop our flow.

The crux of usability is flow. Users prefer touch, our natural way of interacting with the physical world. We want to multi-task and search and obtain information from our apps and devices without take our eyes off the road. We want this information instantaneously and seamlessly. If we want to take pictures, we’d like it to capture the moment. Putting my hand in my pocket to grab the phone, open it, then find the app – each of the action in this sequence holds me back from doing what I was doing and be in the moment, like laughing or eating.

Smartphone usage stops our flow and is not seamless. We want to see, record and respond using technology without breaking out of our flow. That’s crux of usability.

The Wearable Computer Is Here

Enter Google Glasses. They look a lot more normal than expected. Sergey Brin was spotted in the New York City subway (photo) with it looking ever nonchalant.


Google glass have the potential to optimize our experience and is one step closer to a seamless technology. This piece of technology can be incredibly user friendly and considered cutting edge and a mass market appeal if Google could take a page out of Steve Jobs’ playbook and make the glasses fashion forward as well. Sophisticated consumers and earlier adopters who are both digitally fluent and fashion conscious will find the glasses irresistible.

Google is not the only company pioneering this space. The fundraising of Pebble on Kickstarter, which is over 102 times over-funded, gives us pause. The Pebble watch has a great form factor and a modern design and it doesn’t stop our flow. With open APi, it has the potential do most things that your phone and apps can do while keeping your hands free.

We’ve see some of the early types of wearable technology. This type of technology is sticky, because as a phone is customized to be my own (with my apps, ring tones and info), wearable technology can conform and mold themselves to the user’s need and taste in a what is a previously unseen extent. And that will be the sticky point to make these products last.

The most important trend in consumer technology in recent year is not faster CPU, better GPU, better resolution, or other incremental improvement. The real trend that has defined consumer technology product is personalization and usability. In the same way that a piece of jewel defined us, iPhone, iPod and their accompanying accessories defined us. We use them as a piece of personal wear and make a statement about ourselves as much as we use them for productivity.

Are the smartphone’s days numbered?

Unfortunately, we have not seen much innovation in the smartphone market. Admittedly, CPU is faster, display is better, but Apple’s product announcement for 2013 shows that they are planning to price down to remain relevant with intense competition.

Wearable technology is where the action is. Apple is rumored to be making a watch too but this company is not usually the first-to-market in innovation.

3D Printing + Wearable Technology

3D printing has been in the works for a while now but the latest reception at CES 2013 seems to show that there is growing demand from consumers. Synergies exist between highly customizable wearable products and the increased ease with which consumers themselves could customized their products with 3D printing technology.

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We could be seeing design and customization integrated with wearable technology in a previous unseen extent. This is great timing, because great leaps in innovation usually happens when several waves of complementary technology converge.

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About the author

Jane Wang

Jane Wang is a software engineer at Etsy, and formerly a product manager at financial tech startup, an investment banker, and a hedge fund racketeer. She is a strong supporter of female hackers and entrepreneurs. In her free time, she blogs at Isometric Cube, writes for content platforms, including Forbes, Women2.0 and TechWomen, and makes things with brackets, numbers, and paint. Follow her on twitter at @janeylwang.

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