By Saverio Romeo, Principal Analyst at Beecham Research

In 2021, Johnny Mnemonic is a data courier.

A data store device was implanted in his brain enabling him to carry sensitive information – information that could have been hacked if it was carried through the network.

Johnny Mnemonic, the result of the vivid imagination of William Gibson, one of the most prolific and influential contemporary science-fiction writers, has a wearable device, or actually to be more precise, an implanted device.

He is part of an imaginary world but he is not so far from reality. During the last 18 months, wearable devices have gained strong momentum. Products like Google Smart Glass, Samsung Galaxy Gear (pictured), Nissan Nismo, Fitbit Flex and many others are worn either on the human body, close to it or even within it.

These devices are intelligent, connected and become our interface with smart environments such as the connected home, smart cities and smart shops. Wearable devices are directly connected to another emerging vision, the Internet of Things (IoT), in which the value of wearable devices and technologies should be seen.

The IoT will change the way we interact with the environments around us. As Mark Weiser claimed in his seminal 1991 article “The Computer of the 21st Century”, technology will disappear into the spaces around us and we will interact with these spaces through different types of devices.

Today, this vision is taking shape as we can interact with the world around us through smart glasses and smart watches.

Certainly, the wearable technology market is in its infancy. There is a lot of excitement and opportunities on the semiconductor side (eg, Intel, ST Micro, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments) and on the cellular module side (eg, Gemalto, Telit).

The mobile and ubiquitous software community is already showing ideas and applications for wearable devices. However, technological development cannot drive it on its own. There is a strong aesthetics component to take into consideration.

The device should inspire as an item of clothing does. The role of designers and fashion stylists becomes essential in the device design. Wearable devices open a new era of collaboration between radically different industries – fashion and design industry on one side, and the technology players on the other.

Device manufacturers and operators have a role to play

There is a relevant role for the mobile communications industry as well, but each player must find its niche.

Mobile device manufacturers must re-think their device lines. In the short term, smart glasses or smart watches will not substitute smartphones, but they could cohabitate with them creating an integrated offer of human-centric devices. In the long term, a combination of wearable devices can pave the way for a new wave of mobile devices that will make smartphones history.

There is also space for mobile operators as wearable devices can become as much a part of their offering as smartphones and tablets are today. However, there could be more opportunities if operators see wearable devices within the IoT vision.

Operators have invested a lot in machine-to-machine communications that go beyond connectivity to look at service enablement platforms in order to add new services, such as healthcare and connected cars.

Wearable technologies will have an important role in all these new service areas. In order to exploit these opportunities, commercial and innovation partnerships are fundamental to bring new ideas to the market and test potential business models.

The spectrum of partnerships includes the entire wearable technology value chain. For example, collaboration with specialised product solutions providers, such as medical device manufacturers or fitness device designers, can help operators with their offers. But, collaboration with fashion and design brands may become more relevant in order to get closer to consumers.

The beginning of a new era

With the launch of smart glasses and smart watches, we have taken the path that will probably takes us towards something similar to the world of Johnny Mnemonic.

Along that path, the IoT will take shape and wearable devices will become the main interfaces between us and the spaces and contexts in which we will live. The mobile communications industry can have an important role if it opens its horizon to new ways of innovation and new and unusual partnerships.

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