What is wearable tech? Everything you need to know explained

Wearable tech, fitness trackers and smartwatches explained
A newbie's guide to wearables

You'd be forgiven for wondering what the fuss about wearable tech is, given the explosion of smartwatches, fitness trackers, sports watches and other connected devices in 2015. Put simply, wearables are the biggest new innovation in technology since the smartphone – and the possibilities are endless.

Essential reading: The A-Z of wearable tech terms

Over the last year or so wearable tech has gone mainstream, and the hottest devices on the planet are now ones you can place on your wrists, arms and faces.

So what is this wearable technology revolution? Read on to find out...

What exactly is wearable tech?

While the clue's in the name, it doesn't quite tell the whole story. Wearable technology is clearly gadgets you wear, but there are important distinctions. Wearable tech isn't a trendy pair of headphones, for example, or a digital watch.

The new age of wearables tap into the connected self – they're laden with smart sensors, and make use of a web connection, usually using Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to your smartphone. They use these sensors to connect to you as a person, and they help you to achieve goals such as staying fit, active, losing weight or being more organised.

How do you wear them?

Most wearables are wrist worn, but an increasing number can be clipped to the body and hung around the neck. Wearables are quickly blending with jewellery, and are worn in the same way.

Watches, rings, pendents – you name it, there's a wearable that does it.

What kinds of wearables are there?

There are a few different categories of wearables at the moment. Some products manage to get their feet in more than one camp and a few others define new categories all of their own.

Smartwatches

Smartwatches are wrist-worn devices that connect to your mobile phone to act as mini-windows onto your digital life. Telling the time is simply an after-thought of these wrist watches; they'll tell you about the notifications of calls, messages and usually email and social media as well.

Essential round-up: The best smartwatch

Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony have been at them for a while and Spring 2015 saw Apple get into the game with the Apple Watch. Despite mediocre reviews, it's Cupertino's debut effort that is likely to be the make or the break of this category, at least for this generation.

Fitness trackers

Fitness trackers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and levels of sophistication too. Usually worn on the wrist or clipped to a belt, they're generally bands or watches of some sort which will keep a count of the number of steps you make each day.

Essential round up: The best fitness trackers

The newest bands are adding continuous heart rate monitoring, for even more accurate data on your calorific burn and exercise.

Sports watches

For those active types who love running, cycling, swimming and more a dedicated sports watch should be at the top of your wearable wish list.

Essential round-up: The best running watches for 2015

These devices should have GPS (don't be suckered into one that isn't, it won't be accurate) and can provide another level of information about your chosen sport, and take your training to the next level.

Head-mounted displays

If you want some kind of virtual information delivered right to your eyes, then a head-mounted display (HMD) is what you'll need. Some are designed to block out the rest of the world, like Oculus Rift, and present a computer-generated virtual reality to fool your brain into thinking it's somewhere else entirely.

Essential round-up: The best VR headsets 2015

Others would rather just act as an overlay of information on top of what's already there like Google Glass or other so-called smartglasses.

Smart clothing

Smart clothing is a rather broad category which encompasses both garments with electronics in that make them look more interesting or fashionable, as well as clothing that essentially appears normal but houses additional functionality.

Essential round-up: Top smart clothing

It's predicted that over the next few years a lot of the features in fitness trackers will find their way to smart garments.

Smart jewellery

Brands like Kovert Designs have brought the idea of smartwatches to items of jewellery finding ground somewhere between the two.

Essential round-up: Best smart jewellery for 2015

Smart jewellery is mostly aimed at women right now, and the most common usage is to discreetly notify the user of texts, calls or emails when their phone is out of reach.

Implantables

Implantables are a group of wearables that you have no choice but to carry with you wherever you go. These are devices surgically attached somewhere under your skin.

They might be for medical reasons, like insulin pumps, or for contraception or, on the other hand, you might just fancy sticking some magnets in your fingertips. Yeah, that's a thing. Take a closer look at the world of implantables, and expect it to get a whole lot bigger in the next 20 years.

Who are the big players in wearable tech?

So far, it's largely the smaller companies that are making the better name for themselves in the wearable tech space.

Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit and Withings have had huge successes with fitness trackers for the masses. TomTom, Garmin, Polar and Suunto make some of the very best sports watches for running, swimming, cycling, hiking and even skiing and golf.

With smartwatches, it's more about your traditional multinational tech brands with Sony, Samsung, Asus, Motorola, LG and Apple leading the way.

As for headgear, Oculus Rift is the big name in virtual reality although both Sony, with PlayStation VR, and HTC's Vive are causing much excitement.

Google Glass was a player in AR glasses but it remains to be seen if and what the second iteration of the project ends up looking like. In the meantime, Microsoft's HoloLens is perhaps the most interesting AR device.

What have wearables still got to get right?

Wearables are getting very good at measuring us. They can record your heart rate, body fat composition, perspiration, health, temperature and muscle activity all by just touching your skin as well as movement, distance and speed using GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes.

However, a weakness is still interpreting the results. The key to that interpretation lies in hoards of expert medical, sports, photographic and all sorts of other professional opinion to come up with the right kind of software and algorithms to extract the salient trends and markers of what's going on when we run, swim, play golf, make food choices or take thousands of daily pictures without wanting to manually edit them all.

Once they know how to do that, then these wearables will become highly effective life coaches rather than just items of curiosity.

Which wearables are the ones to watch?

The Apple Watch was the one that was expected to re-sculpt the landscape but it seems we'll have to wait for the Apple Watch 2 for any serious innovation.

On a grand scale, it's probably the world of virtual reality that could have the biggest impact on the way we live.

Sitting front row at sporting events, hanging with your bezzies, learning what chemistry is all about by standing at the molecular level – and all from the face-strapped comfort of your own abode – that's some pretty big stuff.

On top of that, start considering the impact that implantables are going to have on our natural human limits and it becomes mind-melting stuff.

6 Comments

  • Joe says:

    They still need to work on integrating wireless charging at a distance. Devices having that would be the only ones that I'd be interested in buying. I don't want to buy one without, only to find out I could have waited a few months and bought another brand that has it. 

  • beachredneck says:

    this is getting out of hand soon the technology will be able to walk and talk and communicate without us 

  • Soumi says:

    This was my first eye opener article to a great new world of gizmos :)

  • Bidur says:

    It is a technology that mostly used for recording s purpose such as  measure pressure, speed of walking ,heart beat,etc .but it is general technolgy that can be uses by people who doesn't have a good knowledge about technology.

  • anz says:

    this webpage is being used for a project during school me and 2 friends are entering this comment now tell us more about the web email back

  • samkd says:

    wearable technology is simply a gadget which we wear all the time. Whether it is a watch or activity tracker, companies are looking to advance them with smart displays. It is cool. Also, see some of the best virtual reality wearable headsets available https://goo.gl/78zkYj

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