Why wearables will fail if we don’t get over this one problem

With all the talk at the moment around wearables and the imminent emergence of consumer VR as the new dominant media format, you’d be forgiven in thinking there was no way any of these things could fail. When you see photos like this one at the recent Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, you can see why a lot of people are putting hard cash into these technologies.

There’s so much hype in the world around the HTC Vive, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and of course other more ‘normal’ devices like the Apple Watch and it’s many similar watch friends (disclosure, I own and wear an Apple watch!) that they can’t possibly avoid being adopted by the mass market. Very soon, we’re told, we’ll be walking around in a digital cocoon, speaking to each other through haptic feedback and gestures. Right? Hmmmm…..

The truth is, of course, that many of these emerging technologies may well become dominant. And that’s a good thing. We like new toys. But, I personally remember back in the late 90’s, seeing people walking down the street in London “talking to themselves” and thinking it was very odd. They were actually using wired phone headsets — remember the ones with just one earbud? Well, back then me and several friends used to think they looked most bizarre. Now in 2016, no one would bat an eye. It’s perfectly normal and is a technology we have adopted with open arms.

However, not all things like that become accepted. Google Glass? I don’t see anyone sporting that anywhere these days. And I personally still have to stifle a small giggle when I see someone using a Bluetooth earpiece for their phone. As if they’re so important they couldn’t possibly waste the spare second it takes to lift their hand to the side of their head.

The problem is, and it’s a biggie, that for things like VR where you have to wear a massive plastic object on your face, we, as normal (word used carefully!) every-day humans, don’t want to look stupid.

We’re very aware of our personal image, the ‘mask’ we wear when we project ourselves into the world with other people.

And you know what? We don’t want to look dumb!

We’re still, in many ways, and regardless of how technologically literate we are in the days of ubiquitous smartphones, still tied closely to the school-yard chants of ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’.

They’re insults that basically allow other people to identify you as someone who’s looking odd through the technology you choose to use. It’s a form of inverse snobbery in many ways. But I firmly believe it’s why Google Glass failed. Because people saw what you looked like with it on and said “wow, you look so stupid!

As long as that still happens, and there’s even the slightest risk of us looking like an idiot, all of these emerging wearables will fail — because we won’t be willing to wear them. Simple as that.

Take the new Avegant Glyph personal video headset for example. It’s an amazing piece of technology. It beams a huge cinema style screen directly into your eyes with frickin’ lasers (or something like that).

Amazing right? Problem is, you look like Geordie Laforge from Star Trek. And really, no one wants that. Well, maybe a few people do, but not many.

The key to this is going to be does this technology, that makes us look so different to everyone else who’s walking down the road or sitting in economy on the airplane, deliver an amazing cannot-live-without-it experience? What I’ve seen so far from my very brief moments of playing with Oculus Rift is that, yes, on the whole the experience is amazing. That’s good. In fact, it’s essential.

Because if the experience is not good enough that it makes everyone else say “I really need that regardless of how I look” it’ll crash and burn in spectacular style.

We all love our tech. It’s changed our lives in millions of ways, some good, some bad. But no one likes to look stupid.

No one.