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SXSW: The Future is Wearable

Every year SXSW Interactive seems to have an overarching meme: mobile, apps, the singularity, zero interchange, Twitter.

If I had one key takeaway from SXSW it’s that this year (and the next few) is likely to be the “year of the wearable device.” According to the schedule, 64 different sessions touched on wearable technology in some way shape or form.

Wearable devices like Google Glass is the future (Photo credit: Ted Eytania via Flickr)

To my mind the discussions broke into three different categories:

  • How will wearables change society
  • How will wearables change people
  • Wow! Look at this cool wearable tech

Right now the wearable focus is firmly on watches (Pebble, FiLIP, etc.), fitness bands and Google Glass – with Google Glass getting the most love and the most hate. The Google glass advocates point out that many of the issues that are being raised with Glass and privacy were raised with smartphones, and even with the Polaroid camera.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg. A huge wearable opportunity is in healthcare. From wearable devices that check your vitals to pills with implanted RFID tags that can be read by wearable devices to track their rate of dissolution and progress through the body. Healthcare wearables have the opportunity to really show how technology can enhance our standard of living. A Pebble executive also discussed the future commoditization of the wearable tech we see today, predicting that we will be able to buy fitness bands in blister packs at the convenience store in just a few years.

Other discussions looked at the change we face viewing reality through digital inputs, how crazy people look using wearables and the continued erosion of privacy. The other undercurrent was the amazing amount of very personal “big data” that wearable apps will have access to. What will be done with the data and its security?

The one area that was conspicuously absent from the wearable conversation was how marketing with wearables will evolve. There were a few discussions about people thinking about marketing on Google Glass (but frankly most of that was around using it to enhance existing experiential activations). I believe there will be great opportunities, particularly with providing branded data of use to consumers and visuals to enhance augmented reality – but we need to be careful not to get too personal.

One thing is clear. As a society and as communications professionals we are at the 300 baud modem level of wearable adoption. We see the promise and the transformation – but the profound changes are still a few years away. When they happen though, I see the change as even greater than broadband, HDTV or the mobile phone, so we need to start thinking about wearable devices now.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan via Flickr

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Mark McClennan

Mark McClennan

Senior Vice President at MSLGROUP

For the past 20 years, Mark has led teams working with innovative technology and healthcare clients for MSLGROUP. He is also the national chair-elect for PRSA.

Mark McClennan

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