Remember Bill Gates’ audacious declaration back in 1980? Someday there will be “a computer on every desk and in every home.” This may have seemed like crazy talk at the time but the vision of access to computer power in homes and businesses became reality and changed the way we operate. Then in the 90’s another wave happened: Phones began to evolve into PDAs and eventually into smart phones – with music players and cameras folding right into a newly integrated device. With the power of information streamed directly to the individual, we all changed how we live and work yet again.

So what’s next? The coming wave of disruptive technology is closer than you think and will change the fabric of consumer business just as dramatically as the first few. “Wearable technology” is the next wave of devices. It is literally technology you wear and can activate without having to fumble through pockets for cell phones or hunt and peck virtual keyboards with our thumbs. Top engineers at leading tech companies are busy right now inventing some of the devices that are sure to be commonplace in the coming years.

Tech on your wrist

Dick Tracy may have gotten it right. The smart watch is on the brink of going main stream. Pebble recently launched the e-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android. From your watch, you can control smart phone music apps such as iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and Google Music; monitor texts and messages; ID callers; track GPS – oh, and see what time it is. At $115, Pebble already boasts “85,000 Pebblers and counting” with pre-orders today for May delivery.

Meanwhile, Apple, is rumored to have 100 product designers working on the “iWatch.” And as Apple has already turned some of the world’s largest industries upside down, the probability that they can do so with wearable technology is a real proposition. Voice-activated concierge Siri could also simplify the interface for wearable technology entirely.

Tech in your eyeline

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, first showed up at the Vanity Fair party on Oscar night to flaunt his new fashion accessory to the glitterati, then appeared on stage at TED to do the same with the technorati. Sergey is building buzz for “Google Glasses” – augmented reality smart glasses that deliver streamed data into a visual heads up display – which 8,000 people have already pre-ordered.

Imagine wearing your personal device as glasses – with content streaming to you contextually based on your location, preferences, and activities. And you don’t even have to reach for your phone or tablet to do it. Says Sergey,

“When we started Google 15 years ago, my vision was that information would come to you as you need it.”

And it’s not just Google – Oakley has already integrated digital technology (GPS, Bluetooth, sensors) into its Airwave line of ski goggles.

What wearable tech means for business

Just a few decades ago, who would have visualized a busy cityscape with every commuter plugged in to their content or connected to their own community, virtually, through mobile devices on the go? Fast forward into the realm of wearable technology and you get to a scene where users are no longer even required to physically activate their device. Information flows contextually; interaction happens by voice or merely movement or location; consumers have access to limitless content and with each other and without effort.

I recently wrote about mobile ending battle between bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce. With wearable technology, the digital and physical worlds truly do become one in the same. Technology will not only enter physical stores, it will also stream real-time data right to shoppers as they walk the aisles: Prices, comparisons, reviews, connectivity with other shoppers, coupons, frequently asked questions and answers, and crowd-sourced recommendations – all without the shopper lifting a finger. Location, preferences, past behavior, and context will proactively deliver what is manually queried today.

Get ready to ride the next wave, now

Innovative companies are already piloting new approaches today. During the 2012 holiday season, Target rolled out QR codes on its top 20 selling toys. Shoppers who scanned the toys could buy online with free shipping anywhere in the US. Recognizing the power of premium experience, Starbucks recently made a deal with the New York Times for its latte sipping customer to access enhanced New York Times content while in Starbucks stores. recently released an augmented reality fitting room application for eyewear customers to try various eyewear options virtually.

If you know it’s coming, why not start preparing today? Consumers want the most transparent data to help them make purchase decisions. Whether it is advice from other like-minded shoppers, brands, retailers, or industry experts, they seek knowledge to find the best solution for whatever need they are addressing. With digital and physical worlds on a fast track to come together, they’ll just be able to get it faster than ever before.

There is no textbook answer yet for how this will all work out. Instead, there are indicators that change is coming and a green-field opportunity to experiment as it arrives. Give consumers what they want and do so in new ground-breaking ways. Now is the time to pay attention to the next wave of technology. It is headed in your direction.

5 Responses to “How wearable tech will disrupt businesses — and life as we know it”

  1. I have been debating what advantages marketers will have with the ipod wrist watch. Thanks for the article

  2. Tracy, that is fascinating! I would love to hear more about it. Could you DM your email address on Twitter? I’m @txTDM.

  3. Great piece! Wearable tech isn’t just going to revolutionise the consumer side, but also the marketing side – we uses wrist-mounted skin sensor unit paired with a mobile app to measure audience engagement with a piece of media, be it ads, tv or film. And we developed this out of an interactive cinema project where we used the same sensors to trigger changes in the film, based on the aggregate audience response. Interactive entertainment will (continue to) be shaped by wearable tech too. Exciting times!


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