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Engineering out consumer dissatisfaction in the wearable sector

Tim Burne, CEO at Plastic Logic

Wearable technology has always enjoyed a certain synonymousness with the futuristic and the creative.

The sector is now continually demonstrating the potential to move beyond gadgets that we attach to ourselves and towards integration into everyday materials, up to and including our own bodies; research from the University of St. Andrews has even suggested that we could soon be able to shoot lasers from our eyes.

In light of this, one could be forgiven for thinking that the wearable sector was one of the most innovative in the modern tech market. However, our recent poll of nearly 2,000 wearable consumers suggests that this is not the case with the wearable tech currently available on the market. With 47% of consumers indicating dissatisfaction with their user experience, customer opinion is that in spite of the potential shown by the market, current wearables often fall short when it comes to functionality and pragmatism.

The dissatisfaction of those surveyed seems to be rooted firmly in the basic interactivity of their device, and many are issues that have plagued personal technology as a whole for years. Unsurprisingly, for example, 72% of users would find it more compelling if their device had a longer battery life. There were also serious concerns with the screens of wearables; over 50% noted visibility difficulties due to the glare of sunlight, and a further 40% were frustrated with the vulnerability of the screen itself.

While wearables continue to make progress in areas like processing speed and aesthetic design, it seems that the market as a whole struggled to balance these advances with the basic concerns of user functionality. With a 2017 eMarketer report suggesting that around 50m of the US population own a wearable, the prospect of around 25m users expressing dissatisfaction is rather worrying. Consumer dissatisfaction can only lead to profits suffering, and as such it seems imperative that businesses begin to innovate solutions that specifically target the practical elements of user interaction, both for the user and for themselves.

So what’s the solution?

As the issues in current wearable technology centre around how users physically interact with their device, it follows that businesses can benefit greatly from re-evaluating the materials that go into their wearables, and how they are deployed. For example, screens suffer reflectivity and durability issues because they are almost exclusively made of glass, which is reflective, inflexible and fragile; part of the success of eReaders like the Kindle is due to their inclusion of ePaper screens which avoid these issues.

Similarly, the emphasis on making devices slimmer and lighter leaves less space for battery power to keep devices alive, even as they get increasingly power-hungry. In adhering to such conventions, devices are subjecting themselves to the same detriments as their competitors and failing to address common concerns.

There is a clear disconnect between what consumers want from their wearable devices and the products that are being made available to them. Brands must ensure that they are meeting the needs of the customer and always delivering value or else the demand for these devices will plummet.

From sports to fashion to health, the market for wearables is huge, so there is a great opportunity here for companies to listen to the demands of consumers and shape their products accordingly, which will also enable the devices to stand out in this incredibly competitive marketplace.

Such is the homogenous nature of the materials used in wearables, it would only take a few fundamental changes to make a wearable item legitimately unique. Identifying materials that alleviate user concerns would be enough to make fundamental changes to the user experience. One of the best-placed materials to provide such a service is ePaper, and flexible ePaper in particular.

ePaper already addresses a wide range of user irritations with glass; it is extremely durable, non-reflective to avoid glare from sunlight, and benefits from exceptionally low power consumption. Flexible ePaper offers further advantages, possessing a malleability and durability that allows manufacturers to create tough and sleek wearables that avoid unnecessary weight or size.

Brands are beginning to recognise the potential of integrated ePaper in wearables internationally, from household names to smaller trailblazers. Both Sony and Lenovo, for example, have seen their ePaper watches generate global interest and find particular success in Japan, whilst Plastic Logic collaborated with Liber8 last year to develop the world’s first smart bracelet in the Tago Arc.

ePaper is only finding such success due to the unique properties it can bring to the table in the technological marketplace. In combining seemingly contradictory properties – durable and flexible, electronic and plastic – it is well positioned to answer the criticisms that are plaguing conventional wearables. If corporate interest continues to mount in the material, it is only a matter of time before ePaper becomes conventional in itself, seeing widespread adoption to eliminate what are growing consumer concerns across the wearable market.

Author
Tim Burne

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