January 3, 2017
Experts haven't exactly had their finest 12 months, but when it comes to wearable tech, we know better than everyone else. So we're going full steam ahead with not one, not ten, but 50 predictions for wearable tech and the connected self for 2017.
We have previous form, of course. A year ago, the Wareable 50 predicted big things for VR, Fitbit and the Apple Watch 2. The fact that we also had 2016 down as the year of wearable payments, Magic Leap and Blocks is no matter because here we are again with a fresh list.
This time around with the Wareable 50 2017, we are sending 50 trends, people, products and companies out into the ether, asking nothing in return. We've hand-wringed and harrumphed over what makes the cut and the list has been shuffled and shimmied around until it's dizzy. We hope you like the list's new look, let us know in the comments whether you agree with our picks and what you think we've missed.
Smart sport shoes
The original wearable is set to get more connected in 2017, led by Under Armour and its line of smart running shoes. But UA is not alone – Samsung spin-off Iofit is launching its golf shoe that analyses your game and even Chinese tech giant Xiaomi wants a piece of the smart sport shoe action.
Eye tracking is going to change how we interact in VR and we've no doubt Fove is the company that will get there first. Even before Valve and Oculus released their headsets, Fove has been tirelessly working on perfecting the tech with its own headset. There's a Fove developer version out now but 2017 will see the long awaited launch of its first consumer device.
Away from smartening up clothes with Jacquard, Soli is Google ATAP's other big project that wants to change the way we interact with wearables and your smart home. A new sensing technology that recognises touchless gesture interactions, the Soli chip can be embedded into a host of devices and could spell the end of smudgy touchscreens.
Smart jewellery has long been due a moment in the spotlight and smart rings, in particular, are ripe for some hype. With personal safety devices like Nimb and Mangos on one hand and wearable payments coming to fashion line Ringly on the other, all it will take is one big name to get involved. One of Fossil's brands, perhaps, or a tech company with a fashion partner.
Apple's been quiet about its VR and AR plans, but every now and then something slips through like Tim Cook admitting he prefers augmented reality. It's unclear what we'll actually see from Cupertino, but we could see mixed reality smartglasses, headsets or Apple TVs. It makes sense: iPhone users are crying out to join in with any alternate reality they can get their hands on.
Bar a couple of cameras, Nest has had a quiet 2016. But promises of new hardware, plus the increasing power of its Works with Nest platform, show that a renewed assault on your home is on the cards. And keep an eye on Hive – this connected home company has stormed the UK market, and is already rolling out its tech in the USA.
Google's Android Wear duo
Google is set to take the fight to Apple, Samsung and the rest on the software and hardware front next year, with two of its own smartwatches made with a mystery hardware partner. Codenamed Angelfish and Swordfish, the circular duo are expected to rock both GPS and LTE. We're expecting the new watches to land alongside Wear 2.0 in the early part of 2017.
Hardcore fitness metrics go mainstream
The days of wearables being called glorified pedometers are well and truly over. It's time for heart rate variability (HRV), VO2 Max, metabolic rates and body composition to take centre stage. From Fitbit to crowdfunding startups, more biometric data will be available if you want to take your training to the next level.
Kraft's Here One smart wireless earbuds are in many ways the AirPods everyone really wanted. They look like regular earbuds, work with all the AI assistants and offer futuristic extras like augmented audio and layered listening. The CEO of Doppler Labs has pushed the release back to February 2017 but if he can deliver, we're happy to wait a little longer.
It's happening. IMAX and Starbreeze are putting StarVR headsets in cinema foyers in the UK and LA to start with and more venues in 2017, The Void is still working on opening its crazy sounding VR theme parks worldwide and Atari co-founder Noah Bushnell is joining the fray too. Soon it won't matter if you can't afford a Rift or Vive as we'll have easy access to high end headsets and the latest games and VR films.
Samsung's in-house incubator has a nice track record in innovative wearable tech ideas already with Welt, Iofit sports shoes and Sgnl's smart strap all breaking out. For 2017 and beyond, we could see spin-off startups for projects like ItsyWatch, a wearable virtual pet for kids; LiCon, a photo based smart home control app and FITT360, a headband-style 360-degree camera.
A kids watch that takes time seriously, Octopus is seriously charming. Joy raised $778k on Kickstarter for this icon-based, routine-creating wearable that's due to ship in March. Designed for kids aged three to eight, Octopus lets parents send visual reminders and gamify chores, plus it helps kids learn to tell the time. The charger even doubles up as a nightlight.
Mary Lou Jepsen
It's a hell of a switch. This ex-Oculus and Google X engineering exec swapped gaming headsets for wearable MRIs when she founded health tech startup Open Water. Jepsen wants to help doctors discover cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's with affordable disease detectors. Look out for Jepsen, a brain tumour survivor, at SXSW 2017 in March where she's one of the featured speakers.
The wellness smart home
Whether it's sleep tracking devices or concerned AI hubs, our smart home is set to look after our health, and even mood, like never before. Air quality, light, noise and humidity are all up for tracking and with cutting-edge technologies working to position where we are in relation to smart appliances, our home should know what we need before we do.
Leading the wearable invasion in US sports, the Boston startup's wristband is designed to help athletes recover and bring their A game every game. It's already grabbed the headlines in the NBA and a huge study with a series of MLB teams and players prove that this grown up Fitbit is one to take seriously.
Emotion sensing wearables
From mood diaries and breathing apps to biometric sensors, wearable tech in 2017 will care just as much about how you feel, not just how fit you are. The science is still very new but with launches like the Zenta bracelet from Vinaya and the Feel wristband coming in the first half of next year, it won't be long until we can test how happy our happiness-boosting wearables can make us.
Having waved bye bye to Pebble this year, Asteroid could be the new smartwatch operating system of the people. Developed by French student Florent Revest, the Linux-based platform has already been ported to a series of Android Wear watches and could become a go-to OS for independent smartwatch makers.
Next Apple Watch
With the Apple Watch Series 2 only just picking up steam, a new Apple Watch release in 2017 seems unlikely. However, rumours of a Cupertino-born fitness tracker and round-faced Apple Watch linger. With Apple seemingly committed to pushing its wearable as a fashion device, adding a new form factor would seem like a no-brainer and it's backed up by some interesting patents.
Wearables beyond smartwatches
This isn't a list of smartwatches for a reason: they aren't the be-all and end-all of wearable tech. The connected self is much more than just a screen on your wrist. We're excited about hearables and smart earbuds, virtual and mixed reality facegear, health sensors, connected clothing and well, everything else that made the final cut. Ambient computing, here we come.
ID wristbands everywhere
Disneyland's MagicBand is just the beginning. Even if you don't buy a wearable in 2017, chances are you could still find one round your wrist. At theme parks, resorts and festivals, bands like the Accesso Prism will mean virtual queueing – yesss – NFC payments, photo tagging and easy access to doors, turnstiles and lockers. We're all VIPs now.
Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz is a cryptic, curious dude, especially when it comes to his mixed reality startup that's said to be developing gamechanging technology. While the world hasn't seen much of Magic Leap, Abovitz has raised a ton of investment and remained calm and collected in the face of doubters crying vapourware. 2017 should see the big reveal.
Loomia x Topshop
Smart fabrics studio Loomia won Topshop's first Top Pitch competition, giving founder Madison Maxey the chance to develop a smart clothing prototype with the high street giant. Early hints suggest heated garments, using the studio's thread and ink-based textile circuits, could be in the works. Loomia's development kit, which aims to speed up smart clothing manufacturing, is also coming in February.
There's rumors floating around that Microsoft is cooking up Xbox VR of some sort for next year. We already know from E3 2016 that the Project Scorpio console specs are fully capable of running VR and Scorpio is supposed to come out "holiday 2017". We fully expect to see news of a full-on Xbox VR headset to sit alongside HoloLens before then - Microsoft can't let PlayStation VR take the lead for much longer.
It might have taken Apple some extra work to get its wireless earbuds ready, but this is surely only the start of Tim Cook and company's plans to join the hearable party. The AirPods are already packed with sensors so it would be no surprise if they follow Bragi, Samsung and Jabra by adding fitness features and even improved Siri integration.
Women's Safety X Prize
Safety is one of the top features people look for in a wearable and the X Prize is On It. With a focus on women's safety, its latest challenge is recruiting teams to compete for a $1 million prize. The criteria are super strict, though: an inconspicuous device, GPS and altitude tracking and no relying on smartphone Wi-Fi or signal.
Under Armour releases
After launching the UA Healthbox of connected fitness gear in 2016, Under Armour has already unveiled its next generation smart running shoes and that's unlikely to be the end of the launches in 2017. While it's not going to follow Fitbit or Apple's mindful approach, it looks like we can expect to see entirely new devices from different product categories as well and a continued push on sleep and food tracking.
New forms for Fossil
Sonny Vu confirmed that Fossil has a new product category in testing, which should expand its offerings beyond smartwatches. While Vu ruled out a hearable, saying that Fossil execs found the idea "a bit weird", the company's acquisition of Misfit means it has serious fitness tech it's currently not leveraging. Some kind of tracker seems the chief bet, but watch this space.
Tech temp tattoos
Whatever you like to call them, tech tattoos are a wearable tech trend waiting for their moment. With health, fitness and fashion experiments in temporary stick-on electronics bubbling under, we could wear conductive ink to prove our digital identity or a biowearable to monitor heart rate and vital signs. The likes of MIT and Microsoft Research are onto something here.
Oculus Santa Cruz
Untethered VR is the dream, right? Well Oculus is hard at work making that dream a reality. We were given a sneak peek of its standalone prototype codenamed Santa Cruz during its developer conference and we're pretty excited. Santa Cruz is meant to be a bridge between mobile VR and wired PC VR and even if the headset doesn't get a release in 2017, Oculus 2.0 will dominate the hype machine at the very least.
If the longevity of wearables is your go-to stat, how does infinite battery life sound? The coming year is set to see devices – such as the Matrix PowerWatch – that harness body heat to keep the lights on. Misfit has already been there with its solar-powered Swarovski Shine – also tipped to make an appearance this year – which could make 2017 the year of the eternal wearable.
Out of nowhere Snapchat's CEO helped us forget the shambles that was Google Glass by launching a pair of camera-packing smartglasses that people actually wanted to wear. We'd be very surprised if this was the end of Spiegel's love-in with wearable tech, and expect the arrival of a second gen pair of Snap Specs or something even smarter this year.
Amazon Echo 2
With fresh competition from Cortana powered speakers, it's no surprise that the leaks have begun on the Amazon Echo 2 front. The latest reports signal an upgraded smart speaker featuring a 7-inch touchscreen with a modified version of Fire OS. A display could turn the Echo from an always listening assistant into the family home hub every tech giant wants to own.
The connected driver
Our relationships with our cars are changing. Hyundai has hooked its car app up to Amazon Echo, Volvo is exploring AR smartglasses and in-car delivery and Ford's new automotive wearables lab wants to use watches and bands to monitor the stress and health of drivers. Soon we'll be able to voice control our home from our car and vice versa.
Studio XO's tech-infused luxury streetwear for Gen Z will land in early 2017, starting with a light-up smart cap and backpack with t-shirts and jackets to come. The fashion tech line is for teens who want to "wear the internet" and is inspired by XO's work on live music experience wristbands. Dressing music fans in connected clothing? Sounds like the future.
2017 could – finally – be the year that payments with wearables go mainstream. Why? After Fitbit bought startup Coin last May, CEO James Park hinted that its trackers could include the tech as early as next year. Plus MasterCard's moves mean we can expect Moov devices, Ringly jewellery and luxury watches to handle payments before long.
Artificial intelligence is making huge strides in the wearable space, but right now, it's still more or less in the virtual assistant phase. Like the smart speakers, Vi, Boltt, Asteria and Viv want to be your go-to helpers. That may take the form of a hearable or smart shoes, or simply an even better software system. You'll be seeing - and hearing - a lot more about its different forms next year.
Garmin's sportier watch
With the Forerunner and the Vivoactive HR, Garmin has proven it's getting closer to building the perfect sports watch/smartwatch hybrid. But there's still room for improvement. After an avalanche of launches this year, it's surely time to get the heart rate accuracy in order, add in a music player and give us a design we'd be proud to wear outside of the gym.
VP of Wearable Sports Electronics at Adidas, champion of women in wearable tech and smart textiles expert Stacey Burr could be set for a big year in 2017. Our sources tell us that Adidas is gearing up to launch the Chameleon fashion focused fitness tracker alongside a new lifestyle tracking app. Burr also plans to bring Adidas' coaching apps to more platforms.
High end VR is going wireless. And Oculus isn't the only the only one gunning for it with its Santa Cruz prototype. Qualcomm has built a reference standalone VR headset, Sony hinted that a wireless PlayStation VR is on the cards at some point and it seems like HTC will have something to show off next year with its project codenamed Oasis.
After heart rate, measuring sweat is set to be next on the fitness tracker agenda. Startup BSX Athletics, along with Frog Design, raised over $1 million to launch its LVL wearable that monitors hydration to keep your fluids topped up. Expect some of the major players to take hydration seriously in 2017 as well.
Return of smartglasses
In this post-Glass world, smartglasses have been deconstructed. Now it's time to put them back together again. Snap Inc's Spectacles proved you can have a cult hit with one nailed-on feature and a hipster aesthetic; Apple is rumoured to be working on some sort of tech glasses; and sports-focused specs like RaptorAR are making waves too. Smartglasses titan Vuzix is also about to launch its next device, and told us that 2017 could see it moving from the workplace to the everyday consumer. And maybe - just maybe - we'll see the return of Google Glass. Just don't forget your social etiquette.
Watches, appliances, robots, lamps... Amazon's award-winning digital assistant is about so much more than smart speakers. We knew Amazon was onto something with the Echo but the speed at which Alexa has wooed other smart home gadgets is damn impressive considering the competition from Siri, Google Assistant and - soon - Cortana. 2017 will see more and more companies embrace the powerful open software as a way to enter your home. Before you know it, you'll be asking every connected item in your home whether it's going to rain.
Android Wear 2.0
There's a lot riding on Google's long-delayed smartwatch update, and with sales of Google-based smartwatches stuttering despite a move to sports and style partners, urgent action is needed. The promised New Balance watch is MIA, and Motorola and Sony are out of the game (for now). Still, the promise of standalone apps, overhauled messaging and improved fitness metrics arriving in "early 2017" remains tantalising. Sure, there's the small matter of Daydream, Jacquard and Aura for Alphabet to tend to but it's no exaggeration to call 2017 a make or break time for Google's smartwatch ambitions.
We've been waiting for smart clothing to go mainstream for a while and with tech heavyweight Google teaming up with, well, denim heavyweight Levi's, this could be the trend's biggest chance yet. The connected denim jacket is set to launch in spring 2017 and will let urban cyclists control music, get directions and more by swiping over the tech-packed sleeve via a smart tag. That's just the start as Levi's is open to more functionality; we could also hear more about future Jacquard partners too.
Samsung's Gear VR has been fantastic for getting the tech into people's hands. The problem? It only works with Samsung phones. Daydream is here to fix all that. Starting with the Daydream View and a couple of Pixel and Motorola phones, Google has built a mobile VR platform with great apps and games (already). If, as expected, the affordable headsets and compatible phones from everyone but Apple (Samsung, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei...) roll in throughout next year, this could be not just VR for everyone but awesome VR for everyone.
Stress-busting wearables2016 has been a helluva stressful year. We're not sure how the next one will fare, but we're betting stress wearables are going to take off in a huge way. One device leading the charge is the Thync Relax which sits around the neck and creates a kind of mini brain massage, and then there's indie devices like Prana, Muse and Spire. Apple and Fitbit haven't missed the trend either - both now offer haptic guidance and meditation apps. As biometric tech improves, we expect to see a lot more focus on busting stress in 2017 - and who can argue with that?
Fitbit's first true smartwatch
The king of wearables produced arguably the biggest story of the year when it bought Pebble. So what happens next? CEO James Park has already hinted that the acquisition could lead to the company's first genuine Apple Watch/Samsung Gear rival and with Pebble's expertise on board, it has every chance of pulling it off. We saw the company's first smartwatch, the Fitbit Blaze, launch this year. The question now is, when the next smartwatch arrives, how much Pebble will be coarsing through its veins?
Rise of the designer hybrids
With everyone bar Apple struggling with smartwatch sales, 2017 is set to be the year of the hybrid. Standard analogue watches to the naked eye, hybrids hide features like activity tracking smarts and vibration notifications inside an arguably more wearable package. It's a strategy that fashion brands are finding easier to grapple with than big balls-out smartwatches – and consumers are responding. We've already seen some great hybrids including the Withings Activité Steel, Misfit Phase and Skagen Hagen Connected, but 2017 will be even better.
If 2016 was the year of VR, 2017 belongs to mixed reality, bringing the real and virtual worlds together. More and more big hitters in the tech world are saying that mixing AR and VR together is the answer. Leading the way is Microsoft with HoloLens and its Windows Holographic platform, which will let partners make their own headsets. Then there's Magic Leap and its mysterious technology which very few eyes have seen yet. Maybe we'll finally, finally see the "photonic lightfield chip" in action in the new year possibly and no doubt we'll see some new players too, possibly even Apple.
With Bragi leading the charge, hearables have truly made their presence felt in 2016 but our ears are set to get much, much smarter. Not only are Samsung, Bose and Jabra going all-in on wireless fitness tracking and coaching hearables but startups like Pilot reckon that real-time translation earbuds will become a reality sooner rather than later. The real shift, though, is to always-on, ambient computing that doesn't disrupt the world around us with distracting displays or gadgets. The ear is the perfect place for AI assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana & Google Assistant (also on course to get much smarter) to live, weaning us off screens over time. One of the first big hearable releases of 2017 will be Doppler Labs' wireless Here Ones, which add augmented audio and noise cancelling to voice assistants and music. Seriously smart earbuds are coming.