Why we put such unrealistic expectations on wearable tech

All we want is our technology to know us
Wareable is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

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.

Essential reading: Smartwatches are playing by different rules

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

How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and T3.com and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

Related stories