The 2014 wearable marketplace offered a random scattergun approach to product development. Tech-biased, fashion-biased, bracelets, watches, clips and headgear all vied for the same ground without any apparent strategy other than to get there first in the rush to the front. At CES, ‘wearables’ are bigger than ever.
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When all the boxes haven’t been ticked, this makes me angry. Startups, growing brands and global giants are all guilty of this. Applying the word ‘smart’ to something doesn’t automatically make it smart and even when it is, often the implementation, narrative and marketing isn’t. Quite frankly, it’s inexcusable.
Over the past year, I have been testing a number of VR and AR platforms, including Oculus Rift, Zeiss ONE VR and Samsung’s Gear VR. Rift still owns the field and was not only the first established player in this current VR reboot but has Facebook $s to back this up. They’re doing a great job and taking their time but the product is a long way from consumer’s hands. Or is it?
Actually, Rift technology is lurking inside Samsung’s Gear VR and it’s a great product that's available now, with full mobility (none of Rift’s own cabling to contend with) and a new Milk VR store. But wait, the website’s a mess, littered with typos and poor UI and none of the gloss associated with Apple’s products or even rival Zeiss ONE VR. Ironically, there's a much better representation of Gear VR on the Oculus website.
It’s just not good enough. The website can’t be an afterthought, it’s a vital portal to the products and for many the first contact with the brand. Perception is everything in a virtual world so why sell yourself short?
It’s not all about the branding. Brands need to get their stories straight if they’re going to convince us to part with more money for devices that we’re not even sure we need.
Until we’re offered genuine digital convergence, each device must fit seamlessly into our lives and play nicely with all our existing technology.
The rest of the VR and AR field is wide open and I’ve tested some incredible products at CES this year. Ones that really stood out included the latest version of Oculus Rift – Crescent Bay. The new model features 3D audio, is much lighter, has only one tethered wire, extraordinary spacial recognition for head movements and a massive step forward in screen resolution. The demos I tried were so good that the increased quality was enough to feel as if you were really there, rather than merely experiencing a great piece of tech.
I also tried the Sulon Cortex. This provides an extraordinary mix of VR and AR by using an external camera to display surroundings, then overlaying digital content until you ‘step into’ the full VR environment. This Canadian start up is currently flying below the radar as they establish solid R&D before hitting consumers. Definitely one to watch.
My final pick of the headgear wearables is the Recon Jet. More Canadian tech, but with a sports bias. Their Google Glass-beating technology is already featured in snow goggles but the headset I’ve been waiting (a long time) for is a much sleeker unit and one of the first pairs of tech glasses not to make the wearer look an idiot. They hit the market next month. More when I have my own pair…
VR and AR has incredible potential for entertainment, sport, automotive, museums and er, the sex industry, but what about the rest of the wearables market? It’s huge (like CES itself) and I’m not writing about it all here. I’ve covered VR, AR and glasses. I’ll tackle the rest next week!