CES 2015: The future of wearable technology

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"Curie," Intel's button-size computer for the wearables market.
"Curie," Intel's button-size computer for the wearables market.

Flexible devices for clothing, virtual-reality contact lenses and tools to help hearing impediments are some of the futuristic use cases for rapidly emerging wearables

LAS VEGAS —"We should not be trying to make tech wearable, but rather make wearable things technology-enabled," according to Mike Bell, VP and GM of Intel’s new devices group. 

Speaking here Wednesday on a CES 2015 panel about the growth of wearables, Bell discussed the challenges manufacturers and brands in the space must overcome to break into the mainstream.  

He said a "cellphone on the wrist" (the smartwatch has become the poster child for wearables) is not what people want, and wearable tech will start moving into items like jewelry and watches. 

Wearable tech gets its share of bad press for a wide range of reasons, including its failure to look good and demonstrate utility for consumers. Reports have shown that current devices, such as fitness trackers, are often abandoned several months after use. 

Despite the challenges the category faces, the panellists were bullish on wearable tech’s future, confident the devices are not a technology fad. 

"The market valuation of wearables in not really relative to the amount of hype they get, but real markets are being created around wearables now," said Christopher Glode, general manager, Under Armour Connected Fitness. "Sensors are getting smaller, batteries are lasting longer and the technology is evolving very, very quickly, piggybacking on smartphones, which means more things are possible now," he said. 

Bell added that wearable devices are more accepted these days because of the rise of smartphones, legitimizing the need for consumers to have a device with them all the time. 

But wearables will not replace smartphones any time soon, the panel argued. "The phone will become even more important as a hub for experience," Glode said. 

Carmichael Roberts, partner with North Bridge Venture Capitalists, said that wearable tech will continue to innovate in the direction of something "invisible, seamless, comfortable and very personal," blurring the boundary between humans and computers. 

"People won’t think about it, like they don’t think about having tattoos on their skin, like a stamp or a sticker." he said. 

Major future developments in the wearables space, said Limor Schafman, founder and CEO of GlobeShift, are in flexible wearables that can become part of clothing, contact lenses with virtual reality and technology to help people with hearing impairments. 

"There is no limit to the imagination of what is possible," Schafman said. "What is fascinating is that the technology is here. Now, what do we do with it?"

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