The End Of The Smartphone? How A Wearable Explosion Could Change How Consumers See Technology

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Today many consumers may name their smartphone as their most prized technological possession. They likely cannot imagine a time when owning a smartphone isn’t a must. However, the time when another technology overtakes smartphones may be coming sooner than later.

Just as desktops shrunk to something users could put in their pockets, smartphones have shrunk to something users can wear, according Gabe Grifoni, CEO and co-founder of the wearables company Rufus Labs. Though many manufacturers have delved into the wearables space and released several smartwatches since 2013, a major explosion in wearable adoption may not come for another five to ten years.

“The smartphone will be gone in ten years. It makes no sense to carry things on us anymore, when they can become seamless with us. They will be replaced,” Grifoni told iDigital Times.

The wearables market as a whole is expected to grow 270 percent in the next five years, from 91.5 million shipments in 2015 to 340 million in 2020, according to a March report by IHS Principal Cybersecurity & Digital Analyst Don Tait. However, shipping wearables does not necessarily mean consumers are buying them. Outside of fitness trackers, many consumers remain unconvinced of the need for buying expensive wearables, according to an October 2015 report by Juniper Research .

Wearables: Better For Business

But wearables could be great for businesses, with many possible applications in the present. Grifoni notes enterprise wearables could replace heavy devices used to scan and count in warehouses. They can replace clipboards. They can be used from a safety standpoint, to alert workers of impending danger.

“Wearables will dominate enterprise first when they will disrupt smartphones, tablets and desktop devices. The same will eventually happen on the consumer side, it’ll just be slower,” Grifoni told iDigi.

The Rufus Cuff, developed by Grifoni’s company, is one such device. Rufus Labs shifted focus from consumer products to enterprise after earning nearly $500,000 on Indiegogo in 2014. The company gained interest from warehouses, hotel administrators and Fortune 500 companies, which wanted to know how the Rufus Cuff could be adapted for businesses.

The device is essentially a tablet for the wrist. The Rufus Cuff features a 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen, a Texas Instruments Cortex A8 processor, up to 64GB storage, a front facing video camera, Android 4.4 KitKat and a 1,175mAh rechargeable battery. The device is spill- and splash-resistant and includes Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, 9-axis accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, speaker and microphone.

Devices like the Rufus Cuff are expected to propel a growth for wearables in enterprise and industrial markets from 2.3 million shipments in 2015 to 66.4 million by 2021, according to research firm Tractica. The main drive behind wearables in enterprise is that companies don’t have to worry too much about design and can focus mostly on functionality.

“In enterprise, most people don’t care what it looks like as long as it gets the job done and saves money,” Grifoni told iDigi.

Wearables: Current Consumer Outlook

But for wearables to really take off in the consumer space, Grifoni says they will have to meet in the middle ground between flashy design and real-world performance. Currently, many consumers see smartwatches more as a fashion statement, but expect they will have more valuable uses in the future, according to a March report by the IDC.

The market has seen manufacturers respond to this outlook by creating smart watches that look more similar to traditional timepieces. Features of many smartwatches on the market include leather and steel link cuffs, gold, silver and platinum plated exteriors and jewel encrusted watch faces. However, small, cumbersome touchscreens and low, unreliable battery life are among the main complaints about smartwatches in the market today.

Even companies like Apple have suffered amid the uncertainty of wearables in the current market. The Apple Watch released in April 2015 and accounted for 63 percent of global wearable shipments in that year. However, that number dropped to 52.4 percent during the early months of 2016, according to Strategy Analytics .

“Apple sold 12 million wearables, which is a lot of wearables, but not a lot for Apple,” Grifoni told iDigi. “It’ll be a while before consumers are educated and understand the need for wearables.”

Wearables: It’s In The Money

One major space for consumer growth in wearables is in payment systems. Tait notes in his report that a budding use case for wearables is as a replacement for money and credit cards. This practice can already be seen at sports matches, music festivals and theme parks, where patrons may wear wristbands embedded with chips, onto which they can load currency to spend at events.

Similar to wearables, more tech-based payment systems like Samsung Pay, Apple Pay and Android Pay are slowly growing in popularity. However, they don’t yet have a specific widely adopted use case to propel mass adoption. 

Samsung recently announced that it has implemented the ability to withdraw cash from bank accounts using Samsung Pay instead of a physical debit card. However, the new functionality is currently available only in Korea and Singapore.

Credit card companies such as Visa are working with other technology companies to develop wearables to replace credit cards. In addition to smartwatches that mainly host payment information, the companies are developing clips, which users can pin to clothing and chips that press against the skin as other forms for payment system wearables. Grifoni says that wearables will look vastly different from what is on the market today, but the explosion of the wearable market in a decade’s time will depend on such changes.

“Consumers won’t be wearing an Apple Watch in five to 10 years if it looks the way it does now,” Grifoni told iDigi. “It’s a cool looking device but gen-one is a beta.”

Updates to the Rufus Cuff specs have been added. 

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