As technology has developed and devices have gotten smaller and more capable, those in the tech community have experimented with transforming products from things people carry to things people wear. Smartwatches, smart rings, smartglasses – our accessories are becoming multifunctional and the wearables market has exploded as the potential of its products becomes clearer. Products like the Apple Watch point to a future in which tech is more embedded into daily life, rather than being an addition to it.
The explosion in wearable devices has led to as many disasters as it has successful products, though, with a number of projects either failing to get off the ground or proving laughably unpopular when they did. Kickstarter is a treasure trove of wearable experiments, from the whacky to the unusable. We took a look at six wearables that didn’t quite live up to the hype:
It’s almost overdone to ridicule the failed experiment that was Google Glass. When it was announced in 2013, the ambitious eyewear was met with equal parts intrigue and ridicule. The idea of wearing smart glasses was exciting to the more technologically minded and absurd to those comfortable with keeping technology away from the face. Ultimately, though, Glass was leaps and bounds ahead of its time and flopped as a result. A number of security concerns, a widely derided design, and a distinct lack of ‘cool’ factor derailed the project before it could develop more attractive iterations.
Glass goes down as one of Google’s most high-profile flops and smart consumer eyewear has largely taken a back seat when compared to the fanfare at the time. The product is coming back for a second attempt, this time as an enterprise-focused piece of hardware. By focusing on its applications in the workplace (where design and functionality could both be more limited) Google has exploited the tech’s strengths, and it will be interesting to see how much of an impact it makes.
In 2013, Cincinnati company Kapture released their audio-recording wristband. The idea is simple and the basis behind it is sound – the wearer can tap the wristband to save an audio recording of the past 60 seconds of their life. The device records constantly on a loop, overwriting the previous minute ready to be saved at any time, and features an omni-directional microphone so that users need not speak directly into it. Its creators suggest that it could be used to immortalize a friend’s joke, note down important verbal information, or keep track of big ideas.
The problems come when you consider the implications of Kapture’s ‘always on’ functionality. Users would have to accept that an audio file of their life is constantly being recorded, and they would have to explain to everyone that inquired about the device that it doesn’t always create a copy of the conversation. On top of this, it’s an eyesore, offers no other functionality, and is ultimately something users would most likely forget to use in the precise moments for which it is intended. Hovering around the $100 mark, it’s difficult to see what place Kapture has in a crowded wearables market.
Ritot Projection Watch
Occasionally, projects that seem relatively simple in theory prove almost impossible to executive in practice. It’s one thing promising interesting tech and capturing public imagination, it’s a vdifferent thing bringing that tech to fruition. One product that hasn’t managed to marry both is Ritot, the ‘first protection watch.’ Worn on the wrist (as you might expect), Ritot promised to beam information onto the wearer’s hand, a gimmick that seemed initially interesting and generated enough public interest to raise 2803% of the company’s funding goal. With $1,401,510 raised from an initial target of $50,000, the pressure is on the San Francisco company to deliver, yet no product has surfaced after three years and refund requests piling in so quickly it’s a wonder the servers haven’t crashed.
Ritot’s key problems are twofold. Firstly, there are serious doubts over whether it will be possible to fit the necessary components into a device with the purported size of Ritot (particularly a projector with the necessary brightness for outdoor use). Secondly, the fact that the human hand is neither flat nor uniform would make projecting clear images from the wrist incredibly difficult. The company is still posting updates without releasing any product or fulfilling its huge backlog of orders, and backers are quickly losing faith. If Ritot can find a way to succeed, it’ll doubtless be a popular product, that’s a huge ‘if’ at this point.
On paper, Ring is a revelatory device. The sleek ring could connect with other tech ‘like magic, allowing you to control anything you want, by wearing it on your finger […] You can send texts, control home appliances, and even pay your bills – all at once and in a flash.’ Promotional videos showed the tech working effortlessly, but the reality was far different when the product eventually shipped having raised over $880,000 on Kickstarter.
Ring was comically bulky, and the hardware was described by Snazzy Labs as ‘comically unusable.’ The ring’s dedicated app had to be running in order for gestures to work – a detail that renders the product all but useless in of itself – and even with the app open, the success rate for the gestures was about 5-10%. The vision behind Ring was noble, but the execution was far from perfect, and the project has gone down in history as a parable of the dangers of overhyped, crowdfunded products.
In terms of innovations that absolutely no one needs, DrumPants have to rank highly. The tech have been around for about a decade, but it’s no surprise it hasn’t taken off. Essentially, the Kickstarter-backed product (which raised a bewildering $74,000) are strips with drum pads built in, so the wearer can ‘play the drums’ by slapping their legs or whichever item of clothing they choose to attach the strips to. The idea is novel and it inspired 558 people to back the project, but in terms of game-changing wearable technology DrumPants won’t enter the conversation. Funny enough, because of its relative simplicity, DrumPants is one of the few products on this list that is still for sale and has actually fulfilled its orders.
Professional sports wearables in the hands of consumers
This point requires some clarification, because it is clearly not the case that all sports wearables are useless – they are a huge part of the data analytics revolution sweeping sports and teams would be unable to get ahead without them. Where their necessity is under question is in the consumer market. Sure, I can measure my heart rate, my steps, my recovery time, my sleep, and sport-specific metrics like the angle of my swing or the strain on my elbow when I pitch. Without expert input, though, this information is all but useless, and there are innumerable consumers tracking their biometric data without the faintest idea of how to improve it.
Yet the market is absolutely stacked with devices. Companies that can make biometric data accessible and actionable will appeal to the consumer market, but as it stands there are an excessive amount of devices focused on only data collection. It’s for this reason that sports analytics teams find it so difficult to decide on which products their team should be using – there are simply too many options, all promising to record data other devices can’t. Sports wearables are, of course, a big part of the sports analytics industry, and they are far from unnecessary in the right hands. Among the average fitness-conscious consumer, though, they are all too often used in data collection for data collection’s sake.
Source: Innovation Enterprise by Charlie Sammonds