What Is Wearable Tech, and What Can it Do for Me?

Top tech markets - younger Americans and early adopters - are the most likely to have concerns

Dec 11, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, Dec. 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- There's an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. That doesn't necessarily apply to all walks of life, as the seeming omnipresence of such products as smartphones and tablets doesn't seem to be driving consumers away from the desire for still better, stronger and faster ones. But lack of familiarity? Well, that may well breed ambivalence.

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A new Harris Poll investigates Americans' familiarity with and attitudes toward wearable tech devices – small electronic devices that can be carried or worn under, atop or as part of one's clothing, and finds that nearly four in ten Americans (37%) indicate that they're not at all familiar with such devices and an additional third (33%) say they've heard the term but don't know anything more about them. This lack of familiarity is likely playing a role in the fact that roughly six in ten Americans (59%) don't understand the need for wearable tech devices.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,250 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full results, including data tables, can be found here)

As seen in previous research, uncertainty and trepidation are also strong when Americans are asked at what point, if ever, they would consider purchasing wearable tech. While 17% say they will consider doing so when it drops to a reasonable price and roughly one in 10 (9%) will consider it when they believe the "bugs" have been worked out, over a third (36%) – the largest segment by far – simply say they are not sure, and an additional 19% say they will never consider buying a wearable tech device.

"We believe that the category's essentially limitless possibilities are actually working against it, making it harder for consumers to wrap their collective heads around the segment. People need to understand what wearable tech is and how it can benefit them," says Aaron Kane, senior research director at Harris Interactive and a consultant on the company's new TECHpulse research tool, a study which monitors technological trends. "When smartphones came to the market, while most consumers probably couldn't have predicted the many directions the apps market would take us they at least understood that the products would at least look like and function as, well, phones. But with this emerging category, neither form nor function can be assumed."

Perks and perils
When asked what benefits wearable tech could have on their lives, nearly half of Americans (46%) and majorities of Baby Boomers (57%) and Matures (62%) indicate that it won't have any; 54% of Americans believe it could benefit them in at least one way. Echo Boomers (ages 18-36) show more optimism about the segment, with seven in 10 (71%) identifying at least one benefit it could have on their lives. Some of the top benefits the wearable tech devices are seen as potentially having on Americans' lives include:

  • Keeping them informed (26% of Americans; 33% of Echo Boomers),
  • Making them more productive (18% of Americans; 29% of Echo Boomers),
  • Making them feel more connected (18% of Americans; 27% or Echo Boomers), and
  • Making them healthier (14% of Americans; 20% of Echo Boomers).

On the other hand, when asked about their biggest concerns with wearable tech devices only one-fourth (24%) of Americans say they don't have any concerns, while 76% have at least one. The top concern is price, with four in 10 (41%) saying they will be too expensive. Privacy and lack of unique features are the next strongest concerns, with nearly three in ten each indicating that such devices will make it too easy for others to access personal information and that they don't do anything consumers can't already do on a device they already have (28% each).

  • Notable here is the fact that the most promising consumer segments for wearable tech – Echo Boomers and Early Adopters – are among the most likely to have concerns about wearable tech.
    • Echo Boomers (83%) are more likely than either Baby Boomers (73%) or Matures (66%) to indicate having any concerns about wearable tech.
    • Similarly, self-professed Early Adopters (79%) are more likely than Late Adopters (70%) to express concerns.

Further driving home the need for the wearable tech products to distinguish themselves more from existing tech devices is that fact that over six in 10 Americans (63%) say that wearable tech devices must meet their needs better than current technology for them to use such products.

Finding a focus
Another topic investigated was interest in seeing wearable tech impact specific industries. Healthcare appears to be the frontrunner in consumers' eyes, with just over half (52%) indicating that they want to see wearable tech devices make a major impact in this industry. Just over four in 10 (42%) would like to see it make a major impact in the fitness industry, and 36% would like to see it make a major impact in the home automation industry.

To see or not to see?
Visibility appears to be a subject of some contention when it comes to wearable tech. On the one hand, the majority of Americans (58%) say they want camera-equipped wearable tech devices to be clearly visible – a likely byproduct of privacy concerns, and as such likely a concern being voiced by those who would not be wearing it themselves. However, a strong minority (43%) say they'd be more likely to use a wearable tech device themselves if it couldn't be seen.

Son, I don't think I have as big a problem with pockets as you do
Of course, one selling point of wearable tech is that, since you never really put it away, you never have to take it out either. Nearly half of Americans (48%) admit that they'd like to be able to access smartphone functions without having to dig in their pocket or bag.

  • This is especially pronounced among Echo Boomers, with six in 10 agreeing that they would like to have this ability. Echo Boomers are more likely than any other generation to express this desire, particularly in comparison to Baby Boomers and Matures (60% Echo Boomers, 52% Gen Xers, 38% Baby Boomers, 36% Matures).
  • Men (53%) are also more interested in this ability than women (44%).

For information regarding Harris Interactive's TECHpulse research tool info@harrisinteractive.com.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between November 13 and 18, 2013 among 2,250 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #95, December 11, 2013
By: Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for The Harris Poll®, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research across a wide range of industries. Additionally, Harris has a portfolio of multi-client offerings that complement our custom solutions while maximizing a client's research investment. Serving clients worldwide through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help our clients stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

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SOURCE Harris Interactive