Covering the wearables beat is supposed to be exciting. Smartwatches and fitness bands are changing the way we interact with the world, and I should be thrilled to watch these devices chart new territory.
But lately, scanning my news feeds has become a disappointing exercise, as the wearables gold rush has paved the way for an excessive amount of vaporware. It seems like every day there’s another company promising a wearables breakthrough, except the company doesn’t even have a final design to show, let alone a viable product to sell.
I hit my boiling point this morning, while scouring for wearables stories on an already-slow news day. Apparently a startup called Thync wants to launch a wearable that can alter your mood, and it’s already raised $13 million in venture capital.
A mood-altering wearable sounds neat in theory, but right now, theory is all Thync appears to be. While Thync’s Website explains in jargon-laden terms how the science is supposed to work, it doesn’t show the product or reveal any specifics about it. Visitors can sign up for “early access,” but the site doesn’t guarantee anything beyond a vague “2015” launch. Right now, there’s no way to describe Thync without sounding like a marketing brochure.
I don’t mean to pick on this one company, which may very well have a brilliant idea on its hands. Ultimately, Thync is just one of several instances of a big wearable reveal that doesn’t include the actual device.
Earlier this week, for instance, Japanese startup 16Labs showed off a smart ring that can supposedly make payments, unlock doors, send alerts and control nearby computing devices. But 16Labs has yet to unveil a finalized design, and it’s unclear how the company will address the numerous technical challenges outlined in this Forbes article. The announcement brings to mind an earlier crowdfunded project called Smarty Ring, which is in the process of flaming out spectacularly.
It’s not just startups that are poisoning the wearables well. This week, Toshiba showed off a set of smart eyeglasses that some in the tech press have praised as being “more subtle” than Google Glass—except that it requires a constant, wired connection to the phone in your pocket. Of course, Toshiba hasn’t announced any plans to sell it to the public and won’t even offer it to businesses until sometime next year.
In the absence of real product news, even I’m guilty of falling for the hype sometimes. On Monday, I wrote about a pair of sunglasses from Tzukuri that can connect with an iPhone through iBeacon and warn you when you’ve left them behind. It sounds more plausible than some of the above ideas, but Tzukuri hasn’t shown the product in action and won’t ship the first batch until next March. That’s not stopping the company from taking pre-orders and refusing to issue refunds once production has begun.
This has to stop. I want to be excited for the future of wearables, but it’s hard when every other press release goes too heavy on hopes and dreams, and when piles of crowdfunded wearable projects are crashing and burning because their ideas were never practical to begin with.
I’m not saying companies like Thync and 16Labs shouldn’t shoot for the moon. But if they really want to make an impact in wearables, here’s a sure-fire way to do it: Shut up, keep your head down, and ship.
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Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.