Friday, January 10, 2014

Future or Flop: What Wearable Tech Means for Public Relations

In the 1989 blockbuster “Back to the Future Part II,” the movie’s main character, Marty McFly, finds himself in “far off” 2015 where he and the audience catch a glimpse of the future. 
While flying cars don’t dominate and wheel-less skateboards don’t exist as depicted in the film, there’s a piece of fake future technology that’s already right at home in 2014: wearable “smart” technology. In the movie, Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, is seen sporting a talking, self-drying jacket.  
From smart watches and Google Glasses to fitness trackers, intelligent t-shirts and bras, wearable technology continues to gain momentum. The transition from smartphone to smart coat (or anything else deemed intelligent) stems from a drastic drop in the size and cost of data sensors as well as an increase in data storage capacity, processing power and the battery life of Bluetooth-connected devices.  
These sensors track what’s increasingly called biometrics. Calories burned, steps taken, heart rate and even perspiration and sleep patterns can be analyzed by sophisticated sensors. Linked to a smart device, consumers have access to an enormous amount of personal data, which they can use to make behavioral changes to improve their health or lifestyle. A smart tennis racket or smart golf club can analyze your swing and send that data in real-time to another smart device for readout; and ‘course correction’ if your swing sucks (as mine does).  
At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, wearable tech appeared to be the biggest showstopper. 
But does such prominence guarantee the technology’s success? And, placing my PR hat back on, what implications, if any, does wearable technology have for the communications industry?   
There’s no doubt wearable tech has a future –even if many current examples have been criticized for being ‘half baked.’ Some smart watches, for instance, have been compared to smartphones with a wristband. Function has to become fashion-friendly and this is happening, albeit slowly. Intel recently announced that it was teaming up with boutique retailer Opening Ceremony to design a smart bracelet, while chip-maker CSR and Cellini Jewelers have created a smart pendant that lights up when receiving notifications.  
Wearable tech works because of the ongoing data revolution. Just as retailers crave a more granular customer picture in an effort to personalize experiences, consumers desire more data for similar reasons. Knowing that you’ve only taken 1,000 steps in a given day and burned 500 calories, or that your home uses 10% more electricity than it needs, all helps to improve consumers’ daily lives. It’s as if big data is becoming domesticated and made user-friendly. 
As people become more comfortable with the tracking, recording and analysis of large real-time data sets, it’s likely that our clients will expect a similar degree of metrics tracking the success of their campaigns. And if some of these wearable tech companies become clients directly, you can be sure they’ll want to feature campaigns of people using –and benefiting from – the gadgets they sell. While many will become more comfortable with big data in their lives, not all will embrace these Big Brother-like technologies. That means we’ll likely have more PR fires to extinguish as there may be a vocal minority of smart device detractors, eager to attack our newest and potentially most promising clients and the products they sell. I suspect such developments will keep our jobs rather exciting in the year ahead.  
With a New Year ahead of us, there’s plenty of time left to convince wearable tech skeptics. After all, our jackets may not be self-drying or talking yet, but you can be sure such advancements aren’t far off. 

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