Importance of wearable computing apps

According to Sarah Rotman Epps, the app battles that have taken place on the smartphone and the tablet front are moving to another frontier.

Ever since Apple launched its App Store in 2008, platforms have waged war on each other to attract the most app developers. In smartphones, iPhone and Android have pulled far ahead while competing platforms like Windows Phone and BlackBerry have lagged behind. On tablets, iPad beats any other competitor by hundreds of thousands of apps. But now, the app wars are battling on a new front: Wearables.

Nike Fuel Band: CC Image courtesy of William Hook on Flickr.

Nike Fuel Band: CC Image courtesy of William Hook on Flickr.

Wearables are generally defined as devices that pair (or connect to) one's current smartphone (typically via bluetooth) to augment the user's experience. These devices are used for gathering health information (in the case of Nike's Fuel Band), taking photographs and videos (Google Glass), or pushing notifications (Pebble Watch). 

In quarter one 2013, 4,673 US adults were surveyed in a Forrester Research survey. 6% said they wore some sort of wearable technology, and 5% said they used a wearable device to monitor their activity. 6% is equal to approximately 11 million people. Yet, Epps thinks the market could be considerably bigger.

In the same survey, consumers indicated interest in a wide range of uses for wearables beyond health and fitness. For example, 44% said they’d be interested in a device that could unlock their car and house so they wouldn’t have to carry keys. 30% said they’d like a device to make media recommendations based on their mood. And 29% said they’d be interested in using a device to track their child’s activity. All of these scenarios and more are possible with today's technology.

While there are many form factors for wearbles, Epps feels that the heads up display has the greatest potential. 

There’s a lot you can do with a wristband, as Jawbone and Nike are demonstrating, but there’s even more you can do with a heads-up display. Google Glass is the most disruptive and compelling competitor in the app wars today, attracting developers from top-tier media brands (CNN, The New York Times), social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Path, Tumblr), as well as independent developers like Lance Nanek.

Ultimately consumers will be the winners in the long run, as more apps will result in greater utility and longevity in the wearables we buy.  

(Sarah Rotman Epps is a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research based in San Francisco.)