The end of the year is all about looking back. 2016, along with other things, brought us the message that wearables are here to stay. Although there were a few signs of wearables not doing that well (Android Wear came to a standstill, Pebble shut down), overall, the year was quite good, especially for fitness trackers and the Apple Watch. Personally, I saw more people around me wearing Fitbits and Apple Watches (not many Moto 360s, of course) and I think that 2016 did make wearables mainstream.
I have been following wearables and have been a big proponent of them since 2013 when the first wearables (with very limited functionality) saw the light of the day (the first Pebble, Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up – those were the days). Wareable, recently, published their ‘hall of fame’ to highlight the wearables that they think will be remembered when we look at the industry with our nostalgia goggles after a few years. They talk about the Fitbit Flex, Oculus Rift, Pebble, Go Pro Hero, Google Glass and Apple Watch and I think they are on point here, especially with the Fitbit Flex, Pebble and Apple Watch. To sum it up from my perspective, the Fitbit Flex brought the advent of wrist-based fitness trackers with software that would help provide a complete picture of your fitness, Pebble was the proof of concept that smartwatches could be a thing and the Apple Watch, in 2015, made wearables mainstream and brought them into the consciousness of the general public.
The original Flex was a simple device; it tracked steps and sleep, but instead of a using a proper display it communicated your progress through a line of LEDs. Basic, yes, but the Flex was incredibly popular, finding its way onto millions of wrists and laying the foundation for a company that’s now considered the boss of fitness trackers.
The Flex was Fitbit’s first wrist wearable, in fact, having launched only clip-on trackers before then, and did very little compared to the ones we’re using three years later. But in gamifying activity, letting us compete with others and ourselves on step and sleep tracking, Fitbit found a way to make fitness engaging, and helped start a bigger movement towards the quantified self.
The very first Pebble was to smartwatches what Oculus is to VR; the Kickstarter campaign launched when smartwatches were barely nascent, but it started something huge.
Pebble proved that the smartwatch was a viable piece of technology, and while it stuck to its simple, geeky style through its iterations – which may be attributable to its downfall – Pebble is arguably responsible for smartwatches taking off when they did. Also, that cherry red watch has become an iconic sight.
The Apple Watch deserves a place not because of what it does or what it looks like, but because it was Apple’s first wearable. Surprisingly, the Apple Watch disappointed us in many ways: it wasn’t (and still isn’t, in some respects) the fitness titan we’d long been hoping for. But it had also been believed that Apple would be the one to take wearables, and particularly the smartwatch, “mainstream”, and indeed the impact of Apple’s grand entry shouldn’t be underestimated.
It may not have launched wearables into the stratosphere as hoped, but the first Apple Watch was a symbol that this category was ready for the big time, and has attracted many other companies into the fold. For that reason, Apple makes it onto our list.