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Are Americans Prepared to Sport Wearable Tech?
Posted: 06-Nov-2013 [Source: Harris Interactive]

[Wearable tech – small, wearable computer devices – is a pond many manufacturers seem interested in dipping their toes into lately, with several new products either recently to market or poised to launch in the immediate future. Most are either a watch/wristband or glasses/headset, though other types are on the horizon as well. But are Americans interested in such devices? Do they see them as potentially useful? And function aside, what about form? Do Americans think wearable tech can be stylish?]

New York -- These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,577 U.S. adults surveyed online between September 18 and 24, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full findings with data tables can be found here)

Overall, nearly half of Americans are at least a little interested (46%) in owning a watch or wristband type wearable tech device, with over one-fourth specifying that they are very or somewhat interested (27%). While nearly half are at least somewhat interested in some other type of device (46%; 26% very or somewhat interested), fewer show an interest in owning a wearable tech device in the headset/glasses vein (36% at least a little, 20% very or somewhat). But of course, different segments of the population show different levels of interest:

Interest in each type of wearable tech is strongest among Echo Boomers (ages 18-35), followed by Gen Xers (ages 37-48). Using watch or wristband type devices as an example: Over six in ten (63%) Echo Boomers are at least a little interested in owning such a devices, with nearly four in ten (37%) very or somewhat interested. Nearly half (47%) of Gen Xers are at least a little interested, nearly three in ten (28%) very or somewhat so. Fewer than four in ten (37%) Baby Boomers are at least a little interested, roughly two in ten (21%) very or somewhat so. Roughly one-third (32%) of Matures are at least a little interested, with roughly two in ten (21%) saying they are very or somewhat interested. Interest is also consistently stronger among men than among women; more specifically, over half of men are at least a little interested in owning a watch or wristband type of wearable tech (52%, vs. 40% among women) or some other type of wearable tech item (53%, also 40% among women). Those with children under 18 are also consistently more interested in wearable tech than those without, with majorities at least a little interested a watch or wristband type of wearable tech (59% among those with children under 18, vs. 41% among those without) or some other type (55% and 42%, respectively). But perhaps the most noteworthy difference is the one that isn't there. The bottom line is, tech – especially in emerging categories – doesn't tend to come cheap. As such, the fact that income shows no consistent relationship with interest in wearable tech may strike some as surprising.

Form, function and fads

Regardless of whether they want to own wearable tech themselves, what do Americans think of the trend? Overall opinions seem to be mixed, but Americans seem to be leaning slightly in the direction of skepticism.

Roughly half of Americans believe wearable tech is just a fad (49%) and that it is not likely to become common, the way smartphones have (also 49%), with 35% and 37%, respectively, disagreeing. Skepticism is also the leading sentiment where usefulness is concerned: while four in ten Americans (40%) agree that that wearable tech could be useful for their lives, 47% disagree.

Opinions are more evenly split on the matter of whether wearable tech can be stylish, with 43% agreeing it can be and 41% disagreeing.

A bright spot for wearable tech is that fewer than four in ten Americans feel it needs to cannibalize an existing tech category in order to earn their interest, with 38% saying they would only be interested in wearable tech if it could replace something they already use, like a smartphone; 45% disagree with this sentiment.

Looking at specific segments, however, not all Americans are so skeptical of this new category:

The majority of Echo Boomers - and a higher percentage than that of any other generation – believe that wearable tech can be stylish (53%, vs. 42% Gen Xers, 38% Baby Boomers and 33% Matures) and that it could be useful for their lives (57%, 42%, 30% and 24%, respectively). However, Echo Boomers are also more likely than Baby Boomers and Matures to say they would only be interested in wearable tech if it could replace something they already use, like a smartphone (46%, 32% and 34%, respectively). Men are more likely than women to believe that wearable tech is can be stylish (47% men, 40% women) and that it can be useful for their lives (46% and 34%, respectively). Those with children under 18 are more likely than those without to believe wearable tech can be stylish (51% with, 41% without) and useful (51% and 36%, respectively), but are also more likely to say that they would only be interested in wearable tech if it could replace something they already use (47% and 35%, respectively).

In the end, Americans aren't yet displaying truly decisive opinions either for or against wearable tech, which may reflect a simple lack of clear understanding of the category as a whole. The variety of devices coming to market thus far, and of the inconsistency of roles they're designed to fill in consumers' lives, can make it hard for the public to wrap its head around just what these devices are all about. Many technologies, from digital music players to smartphones, have struggled to gain mainstream attention until that one lightning-in-a-bottle moment, when a device came along to truly showcase the category and paint a picture of where and how it could fit into and enhance consumers' day to day lives.

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