Not everyone is a fan of wearable technology and developers need to take the social context into account if they want to design products that appeal to consumers and will become part of their daily lives.

[mHealthEU] "Wearables use needs to be thought through in the social context"

Interview with Mark Curtis, Chief Client Officer at Fjord, the design and innovation consultancy which is part of Accenture Interactive, on the sidelines of his session entitled ‘Wearable Tech: Cool or Creepy?’ at the mHealth Summit Europe held in Berlin on 6-8 May.

L’Atelier: What are the main features of the wearables sector today?

Mark Curtis: There are a number of things that need to happen if wearables are to become cool. First and foremost the fashion industry needs to get interested in wearables because if they continue to be thought of as just a tech product, they’ll never attain a mass market. And in fact we are now seeing the fashion industry really getting interested. The most notable example this year is the partnership between Luxottica * and Google Glass. Even though people are still hesitant about wearing Google Glass, when this technology is incorporated into an everyday object that we’re used to wearing, it is accepted more readily.

Then there are a number of issues related to the social context – i.e. whether wearing Google Glass in public places is acceptable or not. There are a number of debates going on here such as whether it’s OK to gather an information feed remotely without obtaining the permission of the people around you, wondering whether being seen there using it in a public place is a problem, etc. So people are going to raise questions about how to define the social space.

Lastly, there are of course also issues around the data. Using the data from a wearable isn’t scary if it stays with me, or if I share it with my doctor or my sports coach. But if my insurance company can also access it without my approval, that could be dangerous. So all this shows that context is important when we talk about data monitoring and deciding on the different levels of access authorisation.

Ought companies developing wearables to be taking account of these data protection issues?

Of course, they will need to work with these issues in mind and also take into account the social context in which their products are going to be used. As soon as I start using a wearable, I place it in a social context, i.e. other people are also involved. So companies do need to design their products not only for the primary user but also keeping in mind the other people who revolve around the user.

Today there’s a hot debate going on around wearables. Do you think they will eventually be accepted?

Yes, no doubt about it. I think the current debate is absolutely justified and useful for the development and enhancement of the technology and the services based on the technology. I’m convinced for instance that digital technology is capable of solving a good many problems in the health field. In the smartphone we have a highly functional tool and we need to develop objects that are able to communicate with it.

How long will it be before wearables become part of our everyday habits?

We’re now seeing a lot of changes happening very fast, but I believe that a twenty-year cycle will be needed before the market stabilises. Take for example the Web, which started up at the end of the 1990s and yet even today business models are still evolving, bringing disruptive solutions. And then of course there’s the smartphone, which went mass market around seven years ago, but we’re still in the early stages of the mobile revolution and we continue to come up with new functionality. I think wearables will follow along the same lines.


* the world's largest eyewear manufacturing and retail company, with brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley

By Eliane HONG