Even today, sales of fitness trackers are going strong, and watch manufacturers have recognized the market of the future in smartwatches. Stammel compares wearables’ prospects with the growth curve of the Internet; nevertheless, he says, the technology is still in its fledgling stage. He spoke with ISPO.com about the prospects of wearables and why the technology still looks like it did in computers in 1996.
ISPO.com: Mr. Stammel, wearables are booming, but the technology is still capable of improvement. Where is the wearable market right now?
Christian Stammel: We’ve already had the technology standard for wearables for 10 years, but only now have reached a standardization and, with our smartphones, a platform which can very easily link things together. But I have to say that we’re at an early stage. I met a guy at the WT Conference who told me he uses the first web browser there ever was, Mosaic, for wearables today. I always tell people that in comparison to the PC, with wearables we’re at the hardware level of 1996, but he said, ‘No, no, we’re 1994, 1995 tops.’
In 1994, hard drives were no larger than about 2 gigabytes. In 1996, a four-gigabyte hard drive cost around 1,800 marks. Today, a hard drive with 160 GB doesn’t cost more than 30 euros. So what exactly do you mean by that?
Today we have a standard like HTML, so really just the base. Technically, we have the platform, so now it’s a matter of applications. That’s exactly what’s exciting for all of the entrepreneurs, developers, and start-ups. Today it’s all hardware, but that will change dramatically. Hardware is still just the enabler, and at some point 70 percent of a business model will be data.
Does that mean that as early as five years from now, wearables will really find their way into our daily lives?
When someone tells me that it’ll be exactly this or that in five or ten years, then I say, ‘Man, I don’t believe you on that.’ You can’t predict that at all. Before, no one would have thought that the GoPro would come out on top because nobody wears a little box, a mini camera, on their helmet. Today the founder is the first billionaire in the wearable market. Even with in-depth knowledge, you can’t predict it 100 percent.
Is Apple still a trailblazer like with the Apple Watch, or are there other trends?
The major benefit with Apple is user-friendliness, even if the battery life is very low. But that’s the basic problem in our industry. The things just don’t last longer than 12, 14 hours. That’s the single hitch in products like smartwatches. Otherwise, Apple’s managed to set a standard in usability. That said, they haven’t majorly changed the entire market. With the Apple Watch, they’ve put some pretty big pressure on the entire watch segment between 300 and 800 euros. The normal watch turnover has thus been broken in by about 40 percent.
Already with smartwatches, many manufacturers are very big in the market as the watch manufacturers now want to follow suit.
Of course it’s much broader, but that’s what makes it so exciting. In the future, every watch manufacturer will incorporate a smart component. Even though there will definitely still be those who say that they want nothing to do with it. But even high-end manufacturers are coming in. Companies like TAG Heuer or Casio are making good sales with their smartwatches, but still not in volumes like the Apple Watch. But what is already the case is: Apple has had a significant success. Not in comparison to smartphone sales, but in comparison to the watch market.
But there are still glaring weaknesses, like the lack of GPS with the Apple Watch.
Another problem: battery life. The display alone needs a huge amount of power. If I then insert a GPS, performance goes even further downhill. Aside from that, the Apple Watch is constructed in such a way that it’s always linked to a cell phone and uses its GPS data. But that’s what I meant in the beginning: I have the base and can incorporate everything you’d want. Then it just runs for two hours, because I can’t stick a battery pack on it. You have to consider exactly what you want to have in it.
Virtual Reality goggles are a big hit right now. Will we all soon have a little box in front of our heads?
We’ll first have to see how it develops and whether it becomes the new 3-D television. For example, HTC is assuming that it’ll become a mega market. It’s still kind of spooky when your husband is sitting on the sofa with a thing like that in front of his eyes. But VR is a hot topic, sure. Then wearable cameras could be installed: when you have a box like that in front of your eyes, you can strap a camera on top so you see the real world – that’s also kinda crazy.
Google Glass was more fitting for everyday life.
We’re assuming that we’ll either have invisible wearables, or ones that you specifically wear to identify yourself. But there won’t be an in-between. There won’t be any more stories like Google Glass.
That’s why the smartglasses market isn’t really growing that strongly according to your prognosis.
Something’s already happening in that sector, and the market will still grow again. I say that we’ll have the second wave of smartglasses and eyewear in 2018. Once they see what’s already happening with immersive goggles, then everyone will rush ahead. Epson played the normal image on the glass, and that will continue to be improved. But it could also be sensors just in the head strap, it doesn’t have to be a head-up display.
To date, manufacturers of all kinds of products have been trying to make their devices intelligent. How, then, can the wearable market be sorted?
Because there are different margins or distribution channels, I would divide the market into six categories: medical, wellness, lifestyle and computing, sports and fitness, industry and safety, and fashion. That has to be understood, because you can’t just sell a sports device in the wellness or fashion market. There are different structures and margins there. But fundamentally, all products can find a place in the sports market.
In two further parts, Christian Stammel of Wearable Technologies explains the added value of wearables in sports, and how athletes can optimize their health with the small, portable devices.
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