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Wearables driving real-time actionable analytics into the modern lifestyle

August 7, 2014

You're a hopeless geek if you dream about wearing big data on your person (as if it were the ultimate fashion statement). But the same could have been said of those tech industry outsiders in the mid-1970s, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who assured us that within our lifetimes we would all be toting the computing power of high-end mainframes (of that era) everywhere we go.

Actually, this latest dream is slightly off, because people are storing less and less data on their devices (such as PCs, laptops and smartphones), and more and more in the cloud. As consumers adopt wearable computing devices into their personal toolkits (or their "wardrobes"), these new lifestyle accessories will be the last place where they intend to store all of their personal records. What they cache locally in their smartglasses, smartwatches, smartbelts and so forth will be only the working data that is utterly essential to support offline or intermittently connected scenarios.

However, these new devices will be among the first places where users originate personal data. And they will perhaps be the ultimate membrane where people consume the big-data-driven personalized guidance being delivered from the cloud. In other words, they will be your principal membrane between your brain and the universal brain in the cloud.

This recent article highlights the symbiotic role that big data-resident cloud services will play in regard to wearables. According to author John Weathington, "There are several ways to incorporate big data analytics into wearables, but the most feasible seems to be storing and crunching data in the cloud, and then beaming relevant and timely information down to the wearer. The collection of data can also be facilitated by sensors, which are worn and then beamed to the cloud for analysis."

In the process of supporting myriad roles in users' lives, wearables will almost certainly cache working data sets that push more deeply into big data territory in terms of their volumes, velocities and varieties. Nevertheless, under any likely scenario, individuals' personal clouds will undoubtedly hold far more on the volume side of the equation than people store locally today.

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But the data analytic "plumbing" that powers a wearable will almost be beside the point. These will be personal accessories par excellence, just like traditional wristwatches. As the market for wearables becomes commoditized, their functional utility (all that big data stuff) will simply be taken for granted.

Likewise, as they become constant extensions of our bodies, minds and senses, wearables will become practically invisible. They'll only be conspicuous when they've gone missing or suffer some impairment. To the extent that they call attention to themselves, it will usually be as fashion and prestige items. Their functionality, powered by big data, will only be conspicuous on those wearables that are designed and marketed for die-hard geeks who like to brag about that stuff.

In a sense, then, the future of wearables is to become "unaware-ables." They will serve most consumers best when they call as little attention as possible to their own exquisite cleverness. As the cited article states, if you're designing a data-driven wearable for, say, triathletes, "your target market is triathletes not techies; the two aren't mutually exclusive (there are a number of techie triathletes), but triathletes are the primary target here. So, although this seems like a pretty cool product idea, don't get too wrapped up in the technology—design it for the athlete, not the techies that want to show off their new gadget. For instance, your new device doesn't need to receive phone calls, tell the time in Hong Kong or stream media. It should, however, be resistant to water, shock and low temperature."

The popular pushback against Google Glass stems from our culture's disquiet with any personal consumption item that's too conspicuous and calls too much attention to itself. It's an interesting invention, but it will be even more interesting in the future if I can order it as an embedded feature in normal-looking glasses that don't accentuate my already terminally geeky visage.

If it also lets me to look at the world through a lens of big data and analytics, even better.