Two days into my CES week and my steps tracker tells me I’m clocking an average of 26,000 steps a day. If I had a Helios Smart Ring then I’d be able to see just how much living almost entirely inside hotels, casinos and convention centers is depleting my Vitamin D levels. When I finally make it back to my hotel room I could use the help of 2breathe, an app than will help me manage my breathing and ensure a sound and effortless sleep. And if all that connectivity has me concerned about exposure to wifi then I can simply slip into my Spartan Boxer Briefs and rest easy – if only I were a man of course.
There were roughly 40 million wearables sold in 2016 and the Consumer Technology Association predicts that there will be 68.2 million by 2020. The vast majority of these devices focus on making us healthier, shinier versions of ourselves whether nagging us to get up and walk every 2 hours, monitoring our heart rates or even helping us network better. What is interesting here is that there doesn’t appear to be a category busting product – no one wearable device that is going to dominate discussions and purchases in the way the iPhone dominated the smartphone category. What will happen instead is that we will select wearable solutions that work for our own lifestyles. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) there are over 200 exhibitors in the wearable and wellness technology space, each with its own take on what we need. Spanning health and wellness, sports, lifestyle and sleep tech, these devices offer us an automated method of literally managing our lives. People will pick and choose devices according to their specific needs – a care monitor for the elderly or to keep track of a newborn’s health – and at specific points in their lives.
This surge in wearables is down to one thing – connectivity. At its rawest level, CES is about redefining what the network is and what we can and want to use the network for. 5G is coming down the track and that’s important not because it will improve data speeds or improve the rate of dropped calls (although it will) but because it will enable intelligent systems that connect seemingly diverse objects to improve lives. That opens up opportunities for using data in ever smarter ways – something that has led us to the inflection point for smart homes today. Wearable devices, that lack a traditional interface and rely on connection to a home hub or smartphone, are a very visible demonstration of how devices and appliances are becoming services.
The evolution of the smart home ably demonstrates the evolution of the network. In 1962, five years before the first CES, viewers thrilled to a vision of the home of the future – The Jetsons. We haven’t quite reached that point yet. In the 1980s structured home automation based on structured cabling enabled better working of thermostats and security systems. In 2017 we have digital assistants that we talk to and that use data about us to remind us to get off the couch, to rehydrate and to adjust the ambient temperature for us without our even knowing. We’re living through a period of what is being termed adaptive automation where the devices and appliances we own learn from us and take small decisions on our behalves.
The question then, when we can rely on our washing machines to use available weather data to decide when to start the wash in order to avoid having to hang laundry out to dry in the rain, is what we do with the wealth of data we will generate and have access to daily.