Wearable devices help marketers 'join the dots'

'We are on the verge of a wearables revolution', says technologist Christian DeFeo.

Wearable computing provides great opportunities for marketers to reach customers with more relevant advertising, so long as the user’s privacy is respected, according to Christian DeFeo, eSupplier manager at electronics distributor Newark element14.

Wearable computing is a rising consumer technology that will take the form of watches, glasses and clothing. With some devices released and others in development by the likes of Google, Samsung and Apple, many tech experts expect that wearable computing will go mainstream by the end of next year.

“We are on the verge of a wearables revolution, which will embed technology more deeply in our lives than we have experienced hitherto,” says DeFeo.

“Wearables put your wardrobe on the Net: it represents the next step on the ‘Internet of Things.’

“The data which will accrue from this will provide someone who can ‘join the dots’ much more information about your lifestyle and habits than they would by just looking at your Web browsing history.”

By combining location with lifestyle data, marketers can enhance their targeting of customers, he says.

“I suspect that one day, I will be walking by a department store and I will receive a message on my Google Glass which offers me a discount on a product within that department store, and it will be a product I’ve probably expressed an interest in at some point.”

However, with great marketing power comes great responsibility, he says. “The motto for marketers and CIOs should be the one which Google has stated as their mantra: ‘Don’t be evil.’”

“It’s one thing to offer someone a discount on a television as they pass an electronics store, after knowing that they browsed for televisions on a number of websites. It’s quite another to use health and lifestyle information to offer discounts on packets of cigarettes or on a case of strong lager.”

DeFeo says the best policy is to “cater to people’s interests rather than to human weakness.”

While wearable computing is coming in many different forms, DeFeo says the most successful devices will be the ones that add functionality or convenience for the end user.

“Google Glass is a winner ... because it provides an ideal platform for augmented reality applications,” he says. “Rather than follow a map to the nearest post office on my phone, [on] which I’ll have to constantly glance down and try to decode, I can see the map in front of me and my position on it.”

Smart watches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear may not offer more convenience to the user, and therefore struggle to catch on, he says.

“We have just been expanding the size of mobile phone screens to larger and larger sizes,” he says. “Are we really going to want to access that same functionality on a smaller screen and one that requires bending one’s arm in a somewhat awkward manner to get a full view of it?”

High prices and low battery life are possible barriers to adoption of wearable computing in the near term, says DeFeo.

However, economies of scale should eventually drive down the price of major wearable products by companies like Google and Samsung, he says. New developments in energy technology, including wireless charging and energy harvesting—using energy from the sun, motion and other means—may address the battery issue, he says.

Hardware makers must also still convince users of the benefits of wearable computing, he says. “Wearables may suffer from the perception that it’s merely moving mobile phone functions from the handset to the wrist.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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