Why we put such unrealistic expectations on wearable tech

All we want is our technology to know us
Unrealistic expectations of wearables

A curious aspect of wearable tech is the surprising and often impossible expectations of consumers and commentators about today's devices.

When you write about wearables - or any technology, you have to remember that few people share the same depth of knowledge about the capabilities of the technology (Wareable reader aside of course). But I'm often astounded by the expectations of commentators and other journalists when outlining the criteria of what wearable tech should do.

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A case in point is a recent article on The Pool by Louisa Pritchard. By and large it's a great summation of the issues faced by women who use wearable tech, and echoes the sentiments expressed on these pages at Wareable. But I found one throwaway sentence about her frustrations with her Fitbit alarming:

“I want more. I want my wearable to tell me why I'm not sleeping, to help clear my mind while I'm running or just make me feel better in myself. "

Right. Enhanced sleeping analysis is big on the wearable wish list for sure, the current measurements of deep and light sleep are frankly a joke. But asking your wearable to clear your mind? To help you feel better in yourself? What voodoo tech would this be?

I've written at length over the last two years about what wearables need to do, and how they can be improved. And many of those issues are as relevant today as they were back in 2014, when we founded Wareable.

But the notion that wearable tech needs to become some sort of magic cure for all that ails us in order to succeed is crazy.

Tech can track, and one day it will analyse and pre-empt problems properly. But it can't actually feel for you. It can't tune you up like a laptop attached to a race car.

We often get similar emails from readers, asking us to recommend a fitness tracker. The list of desired features always starts in a mundane fashion “steps", “sleep", “heart rate" - but usually goes onto end with something extremely niche or difficult to realise such as “connect to the equipment in my local gym", which is entirely plausible, but technologically unlikely.

But no-one is wrong to expect this kind of functionality. But what makes me curious is why people place such lofty ambitions on these devices? And why it only seems to affect wearables - even VR tech isn't lumbered with that level of expectation.

In my mind this is a symptom of the problem that Louisa Pritchard outlines in her op-ed: people are disappointed in their wearable devices. Wearables are the most personal devices we've ever created, but they're still way too impersonal on our wrists. Killer features are missing, new data is slow coming forward. No device feels like it knows us properly. And that vacuum is leading people to dream up their own.

And the problem isn't helped by the marketing surrounding wearables. Big brands (no names mentioned) create a perception through their advertising that their fitness bands are an ever-present companion for all aspects of your wellbeing. This isn't really true - in most cases the data is presented and then it's up to you how much of an effect it has on your life.

Many of the detractors of today's wearables harbour this negativity because they want and expect more. They are right to do that.

More data is on the horizon. Stress tracking is the next big metric, and is set to tackle an epidemic in our modern lives. But brands still need to focus on the things we've been shouting about since day one of wearable: more analysis, more personal interpretation. We need our devices to know us deep down. And that's what we really dream about.

Do you agree with James and the unrealistic expectations placed on wearable tech? Let us know in the comments section below


  • nigelwalsh says:

    rather than call it an unrealistic list of expectations, let's call it an exciting and creative roadmap of future features - while not forgetting it's not going to take the steps or do the sleep for you.  That bits in our control.  But it will one day be a sat nav like capability guiding us what we need to do in a whole new level of individual context 

  • MghSleep says:

    We agree that expectations can be too high, and among the reasons is unrealistically optimistic marketing. We recently reviewed the sleep wearable space and came to the same conclusions and proposed a framework for understanding sleep claims that spans wellness and medical perspectives since that boundary is blurry when it comes to sleep wearables. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26604847

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