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Wearable(s') Experimentations Featured Pattern: P1458 February 2020

Author: Sean R. Barulich (Send us feedback.)

Wearables developers are still experimenting with various device features and form factors to gauge commercial opportunities.

Abstracts in this Pattern: (Seattle, Washington) recently initiated a limited launch of its new Echo Frames audio-based smart glasses, which use integrated speakers and microphones to provide an audio-based augmented-reality experience. The smart glasses enable wearers to use Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant, to hear smartphone notifications, and to interact with smart-home devices. Amazon also expanded its wearables portfolio with other products, including the Echo Buds wireless earbuds and the Echo Loop smart ring. Some emerging wearables stray further away from familiar form factors and functions. For example, the Catholic Church (Vatican City, Vatican City) launched a wearable electronic rosary that works with a smartphone app to guide wearers through prayers and track their progress.

Many companies that are working on wearables have focused on the development of devices with digital-health features, but whether such devices are effective at obtaining accurate health metrics from wearers and providing measurable benefits remains unclear. For example, Apple (Cupertino, California) claims that its Apple Watch can accurately detect atrial fibrillation; however, the device does not continually measure for atrial fibrillation, and false-positive measures can incorrectly notify users of a problem. The rise of the Apple Watch inspired the rise of a number of questionable digital-wellness products that rely on wearable tech. Whether emerging forms of wearables can deliver their promised features also remains unclear. For example, several companies that are developing noninvasive brain–machine interfaces claim that their products can enhance memory or focus, hasten weight loss, or treat neurodegenerative diseases. But when researchers at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver and Kelowna, Canada) examined a number of direct-to-consumer brain–machine interfaces (see SC-2019-10-02-103), they found that many device manufacturers made unverified claims about what these devices can achieve (P1399 — Zapping the Brain discusses applications that are even potentially dangerous). The wearables market continues to grow at a rapid pace with limited regulation, forcing consumers to gamble on which wearable products can deliver on their advertised benefits.