In recent years, the evolution of wearable technology has resulted in an explosion of opportunities in the digital space. Wearable devices such as Google Glass, Apple iWatch, Nike Fuelband, and various other consumer data tracking devices have quickly revealed themselves to be promising tools for the future of mobility and location-based marketing. Wearable technology is expected to have a major impact on society, similar to that of smartphones. According to Berg Insight, wearable smart device sales worldwide are predicted to reach 64m units by 2017.1 In short, the battle to dominate the wearable technology market is ongoing.
As fans increasingly seek more immersive, interactive live experiences, the value of consumer data tracking and real-time targeting capabilities will play a key role in the development of wearable smart devices. Health and physical activity biometrics are a particular area of opportunity, with companies launching devices such as thermo bracelets that heat or cool your body, and devices that monitor users’ physical activity and heart rate levels, allowing users to enhance their exercise experience or more closely monitor a health condition. An estimated 21m wearable devices were sold last year, according to IDC, a research firm; wrist-worn devices, including watches and bracelets, were the majority.2
There are also many opportunities for wearable technology in the live music space, though integrating this technology could prove to be a major challenge for the music industry in the next few years. Already a number of startups are working to develop useful wearable devices that can easily be implemented in a large audience situation, with hopes of tapping into the lucrative festival industry. If successful, these devices could spur the growth of industries based on both cultivating consumer data and providing new technological capabilities.
However, there are serious logistical and privacy related concerns that could hinder the growth of wearable technology. The trials and tribulations of Google Glass illustrate the failure of wearable technology’s flagship product. Still, if the information can be collected anonymously from the source and there is value in the aggregation of many data points, wearable technology will surely have its day.
History of Wearable Technology
Wearable technology now includes a diverse set of products, watches, wristbands, necklaces, and smart glasses. With the Internet, their success is predicated not just on the real-time information they garner for the users themselves. It is the marketing intelligence they supply sellers that makes them especially attractive to others.
In the pre-Internet era, the concept dates back to the late 1970’s when the first calculator watch was released following production of the first hand held calculators by Hewlett-Packard (the slide ruler, possibly the best piece of wearable technology ever, had put men on the moon before that). Developed by Pulsar Watches, the calculator watch quickly became popular amongst mathematicians and scientists. It entered pop culture after it was worn by Sting on the front cover of the 1983 single, by The Police, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. Tom Hanks wore one in the 2000 film Cast Away. Devices with higher functionality like PDAs and smartphones later replaced it.
During the late 2000s, wearable technology experienced growth as Chinese companies introduced the first wristwatches containing mobile phone capabilities, known today as i5 and i6 devices. In 2010, wearable electronics began to incorporate the latest industry standards including the Internet Standards set by the Internet Engineering Task Force, as well as Bluetooth technology. These developments lead to technological advances including the ability for wearable devices to interface with the wireless personal area network (WPAN) and wireless body network (WBAN)3.
Despite such events, it wasn’t until Google exhibited the first prototype of Google Glass in 2012 that wearable computing gained notoriety. Originally developed from military research on head-mounted displays, the technology wasn’t made available until 2013, and was only offered to a select group of developers deemed “Glass Explorers”. Acclaimed producer and audio engineer Young Guru was selected to be one of these explorers, and his input on the device ultimately led to the development of specialized ear buds for Google Glass. Google’s streaming service, Google Play All Access, was integrated into the device. In May of 2014, Google released a limited quantity of product to the general public starting at $1,500. Despite relatively successful sales, it has been discontinued for the time being due to both criticism of the device’s functionality and concerns about privacy stemming from its ability to inconspicuously record video.
Still, the technology is making an impact on personal and business computing, fitness tracking, and healthcare monitoring where music, of course, is a complement.
Wearable Tech Live
In 2012, music producer, iPad DJ, and entrepreneur Rana June launched a startup called Lightwave with the hope of capitalizing on the opportunities wearable technology presents in nightlife and live performance. Lightwave produces a wristband that collects data by measuring audience member biometrics including movement, temperature, and audio levels, and provides real time analytics on the data it collects. The goal of the Lightwave wristband is to use the data to allow performers and even venues to use audience interest and engagement to alter or improve their offerings, as well as to enable a more interactive, customizable experience for the audience. Lightwave launched its device during South by Southwest Interactive in 2014 as part of a “Bioreactive Concert” that was sponsored by Pepsi. Attendees were given a Lightwave wristband that transmitted users’ biometrics wirelessly to their production team. The system then displayed the information on large screens and Lightwave iPads for users to interact with and even share via social networks. The team is then able to use these metrics to create elements of the show that drive audience engagement.
For example, they could set up a game in which the audience’s average temperature is displayed on screens and the audience is then encouraged to become more active: once it reaches a certain temperature threshold, beverage rewards follow. Similarly they could use the motion sensing capabilities to set up a dance contest in which the most active audience member or group of audience members are acknowledged on screen or rewarded in some way. Rana June, Lightwave’s CEO, sees this technology being integrated far beyond interactive parties and cool sponsorships. “Before the experience of performing live, I didn’t understand the lack of real-time data available to artists and performers and how static much of the current live performance technologies [were],” she explains. “The underlying goal is to provide deeper, more meaningful insights about what’s happening beyond someone with a clicker saying 1,000 people walked in.”4 Being able to provide the event organizer, featured performer, and audience members with all of this information create a vast amount of opportunities in live entertainment space.
Despite the exciting opportunities presented by Lightwave, technologies like this face quite a few obstacles. The first is scalability. While it is easy enough for them to hand out a relatively small number of wristbands at their event, bringing the Lightwave wristband to a large space like an arena would pose issues both in terms of affordability and the ease with which these devices can be distributed and collected. The device also seems to be limited in its genre application. The wristband obviously meshes well with the audience at an EDM show, but the interactive element of Lightwave would seem somewhat out of place in many rock and folk shows, where the audience is looking for a more observational experience. Finally, many concertgoers will likely oppose the idea of having their movement and bodily function tracked for a couple hours. Of course recording the data anonymously can largely assuage these fears, but doing so would limit the scope of Lightwave’s interactive elements.
Lightwave is not the first company to introduce wearable devices in the live performance industry. In recent years, major music festivals have invested millions in creating new forms of mobile payment and ticketing services for large crowds. Last year, Lollapalooza began offering attendees wristbands that were linked to users credit and debit card information weeks prior to the event. This new form of wearable payment allows concertgoers to purchase food, drinks, and merchandise without the need to carry cash or plastic cards. The wristband also can double as ticketing device, allowing fans easy entrance at crowded festivals. Production company C3 Presents, as well as various concerts and festivals including Governor’s Ball and Electronic Daisy Carnival have all begun to implement the use of wearable technology and digital interaction, and have high hopes that soon this will become the standard for other major festivals.5
Apple is planning to debut its highly anticipated iWatch in the coming months, and others, including Sony and Samsung have been exploring the market. It seems likely that the technology will develop quickly. Privacy concerns, though, will continue to be a hurdle. The Internet has changed our lifestyle and opened it up ever more to public scrutiny, sometimes without our consent. In the long-term, therefore, the success of wearable technology must depend on a measure of public trust. Its utility will also be key. We justify trade-offs in privacy when we use a smartphone and surrender locational data because the device is so useful – not so yet with wearable technology.
By William Kiendl
5. http://www.psfk.com/2014/07/wearable-concert-tech.html? utm_content=buffera98d0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign