Wearable technology is a thing of the future, and the future is here. The first Bluetooth device was sold in 2000 and from there, wearable technology took off. The Go Pro broke out in 2004, Google Glass took off in 2013, and over the next few years we will see a variety of devices emerge into the market (Statista, 2016). Beginning in places such as the military and medical professions, wearable technology has provided support to a variety of people in a variety of areas for decades. More recently, wearable technology has nosedived into the private consumer market. Specifically, smart watches have begun to spread quickly and are taking off from not only Apple and Google, but Michael Kors, a high-end purse and clothing brand. In 2016, there were 325 million sales of wearable technology (Statista, 2016). The success of smart watches depends on the affordances they offer, the content they provide and the culture that surrounds them.
Smart watches refer to the portable technology designed to be worn on your wrist. They are like smart phones in that they have a touchscreen and support a variety of apps, including health apps that track things like heart rate and movement. It’s having a mini computer on your wrist. 21.1 million smart watches were sold in 2016 alone (SCMP, 2016). This is expected to sky rocket to 141 million in 2018 (Statista, 2016).
Design. In a study done by Ki Joon Kim published in April of 2017, it was shown that the design had some relationship to whether or not consumers enjoyed them. The size of the screen was one that consumers felt was important, more specifically that larger screens were more attractive and activities done on these large screens were deemed more successful. Round screens were deemed to also have a better effect on people, except when regarding control. Users felt more control when using a square screen. While there was difference in the design affordances, it will be up to the companies to offer a variety of watch types to suit the needs of different individuals, such as Apple offering two different screen sizes. Design Matters.
Content. Watches provide all sorts of content and affordances at a moment’s notice. Content matters in terms of spending hundreds of dollars on a watch, but people pay way more for way less features. There are a variety of applications from health tracking, to games, to social media, etc. It is completely customizable to fit your personal life style. I enjoy fitness and health, so my watch would be set to track my exercise, my eating, my water intake, my steps – I could go on. However, if someone wasn’t into fitness, they wouldn’t need those features. Since the content isn’t necessary unique to your phone, but can more easily send you directly what you want, it provides a new affordance of a condensed phone notification list. Content, sort of, matters.
Culture. In today’s culture, being attached to your phone isn’t even thought of anymore, it just is. Everyone is expected to have their cellphone on them at all time and be available at a moment’s notice. The watch doesn’t take away from that aspect, in fact it adds to it. Now, you can be driving and see a message come in on your wrist from a family member. While you’re using the toilet, a message can come in from your boss. Although it’s safer and more hygienic, it makes people even more accessible! You can even respond to each message without using your fingers. However, I think this is where technology is headed anyway. It began with the Bluetooth headset, that many people would wear on their way to work so they were accessible even before the day started. People like to be connected and like to be in the know. The smart watches aid in that aspect and provide just another way that people can stay connected more easily. If not the watch, it will be another accessory. Culture matters.
Societal Implications. Gentzkow wrote in one of his studies about how television lowered voter turnout in the mid 1900’s. He explains that although television was able to spread news wider and faster, it also gave people other things to fill their time with, such as entertainment, shows and movies. However, Dr. Groshek has found in his recent studies that streaming television has actually increased political discussion among citizens. It’s shown that no matter the content being streamed, people are more likely to engage in political discourse during face to face conversations. These are two conflicting ideas that are both based on very different times in American technological and political culture. In regard to smart watches, they are not ‘bad’ for society. In fact, they are assisting individuals to improve their daily lives. They remove the constant feeling of constantly checking the phone, they provide immediate feedback on daily routine and productivity, and allow the user to completely customize it to their individual likes and tastes.
By Hannah Rose Gardner, BU Emerging Media Studies Master’s Student, hannahrosegardner.com
Gentzkow, M. (2006, Aug) Television and Voter Turnout.
Kim, K. (2017, April 21). Shape and Size Matter for Smartwatches.
Perez, B. (2017, Feb 2). Smartwatch Market Hits Record 21.1 Million Sales in 2016.
Statista. (2017). Statistics & Facts on Wearable Technology.