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December 25, 2014

Here's Why Tech Form Follows Function

Posted by Suryaprakash K. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:35 PM

The wearable in any form will eventually cost less to make and be smaller, lighter, and more convenient than smartphones and tablets

The average mobile user checks her device 150 times a day. So says one of the foremost authorities on technology in the world, Mary Meeker.

Meeker was one of the first Internet analysts in the 1990s. She left Morgan Stanley to become a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins and her annual Internet Trends presentation is the industry gold standard and a highly anticipated event. Her latest prediction is that wearable computing platforms are going to continue to boom in popularity. Consider a metric like consumer listening hours: On Pandora as measured in three categories (PC versus mobile & tablet versus wearables like car/TV/appliance), wearables are expected to account for more than a quarter of total share.

What about your already-busy mobile device? Its various functions suggest that it's going to evolve in form to better meet consumer expectations. Of the 150 times a typical user checks her device, messaging accounts for 23 times, voicemail 22, time 18, music 13, gaming 12, social media nine, camera eight, alarm eight, news six, and calendar five. That's why wearables will continue to skyrocket in popularity, according to Meeker. What's the point of digging into your pocket when you can blink your eyes or flick your wrist in order to message, hear voicemails, and perform other activities that take up so much of your time today?

No doubt about it--the market is moving towards wearable computers. People like you and me are always in search of higher functionality and lower cost. That's the magic of the market. It's what drives Moore's Law and our all-around desire for computers. The wearable in any of the forms we know now - visor, car dashboard, wristwatch, and eye glasses - will eventually cost less to make and be smaller, lighter, and more convenient than smartphones and tablets.

Meeker predicts that total usage of wearables will follow a 40-year trend line: That is, where there were 1 billion computer users/units a decade ago, we should expect 10 billion by 2020, just five years away. What none of us is too sure about is exactly how the wearable story will pan out. Note how people currently refer to wearable computers: Car? TV? Appliance? If any of us did know for sure and how, I suppose Wall Street would herald us as the next Warren Buffett.

We do know that even though wearable devices will always be on, they will consume relatively little power to do so. They'll sense what we're going to do before we do it, based on records of our past movements but also by sensing real-time nerves and muscle movements. They'll utilize the array of tools we now know in different ways. An extremely sensitive microphone, for example, might measure a user's blood pressure by detecting the sound of the heartbeat and other physiological sounds. The device could then send the information to the user's healthcare provider. Car crash fatalities caused by texting while driving continues to grow as a cause of death for millennial consumers, so the marketplace will no doubt welcome any functional improvement in that area. Alerts, messages, and reminders won't require any digging for a tablet, coaxing it out of sleep mode, and scrolling for what you need to do.

As part a past presentation, Meeker reminded the audience of a May 1999 cover story in Barron's. The article was about Jeff Bezos and was titled "Amazon.bomb." It's sobering to recall how some investors wrote off the innovators of the early web. The temptation is to dismiss Meeker's bold predictions for wearables and many other of today's tech prognoses as well.

Frankly, I think the uncertainty that surrounds the future of wearable technology is part of its appeal. In a few years, the young technologists who today are competing in hackathons will be the ones who have come up with radically innovative ways to deliver on what the market wants. Just as today's masters of the technology universe seem to have come out of nowhere, so could the next wave of disruptive innovators. They'll be leveraging wearables in ways that we can't even imagine yet.

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