There’s a new stat in town.
For a while now the news industry has been obsessed by the smartphone penetration stat. According to Ofcom it currently sits at 61 percent of the UK adult population. Of even more interest (to those who believe that reading content on a tablet is the new print reading) is tablet penetration, currently at 44 percent of British Households (Ofcom, again).
Now, according to the YouGov Wearables Study Wave 1, we have a stat for the penetration of wearable tech. It sits at six percent of UK adults.
It is always good to see a new device tracker like YouGov’s launch because the implication is that there are great changes ahead. There is a wow factor to charts that show a steep rise, annotated with triple figure growth percentages. Conference porn.
YouGov see that kind of sexy growth for wearable tech. Six percent in August 2014 will turn into 13 percent by September 2015, they say (117 percent growth, no less).
That growth doesn’t even factor in Apple’s recently announced smart watch. This will probably have the effect of spiking Christmas sales for smaller players as consumers wait to see what Apple do next, but given the iPhone and iPad maker’s history, it’s safe to assume it’ll bring the technology to a much wider market eventually.
On top of the six percent who already own wearable tech, one in ten of us are interested in purchasing such a gadget, say YouGov. If we succumb, it will set us back an average of £123 for a smartwatch or £98 for a fitness wearable.
Those aged 25 to 34 are most likely to have a wearable tech device (a typical age profile for an early adopter of tech) but those thinking of buying a watch are most likely to be 35 to 44. Meanwhile those 55 and above are the most likely age group to be considering a wearable tech fitness device.
The interest of the baby boomer generation in wearables mirrors the uptake of tablet computers by that generation. If tech is useful to them (either for a reading experience closer to that of print or for health monitoring) they will buy it. Similarly, the 45+ led the uptake of 4G technologies in the USA.
It is interesting when the interest of the 55+ is raised as they have serious cash. They also have a serious interest in serious news via traditional newsbrands.
Once we have them, wearables will become part of our daily lives. YouGov found that half the smartwatch users use them all day long (57 percent for wearable fitness devices) so they will become part of our daily attire if we buy them. Notably, 51 percent of watch users keep an eye on their emails on them, implying that people will read content on them and are happy to be alerted by them.
The stats in the last paragraph will be of interest to news commentators. Jeff Sonderman, deputy director of the American Press Institute, told Journalism.co.uk recently:
“Where [wearable tech devices] stop being a gadget and fade into the background, when it just becomes this thing that is central to your life, that’s when all the really powerful stuff starts to happen in taking over the way that we live.”
The Financial Times has already put its fastFT service on Samsung devices using the Spritz reading technology. It’s an experiment that the newspaper is fully aware is unlikely to become a big part of how it delivers news to its readers, at least in its first incarnation. But as an experiment it’s a way of working out how the FT can reach people effectively any way they want.
YouGov believe that wearable penetration amongst the print readers of some quality newspapers (The Guardian and Times, for example) is already in double figures.
Sonderman believes smartwatches will be used for news as follows:
“Watches are a really good notification system, it’s a good way to get buzzed with a short message that alerts you to something going on right now that is important to you. When it comes to the watch you know it’s important and you can glance and see the headline.
“I would expect, from what we’ve learned from mobile and tablets that continues to be true, that you don’t actually see people abandoning other platforms in exchange for a smart watch. You’ll see people incorporate that in new ways and fill new gaps in their lives but they’ll still probably use they other things in other ways.”
Shane Richmond, author of Computerised You, a book about wearables, told me that the personal data wearables give us will be a gift for editors. Wearables will collect so much information about our health that there will be a role for editors to help users interpret that data. There will be much we will need to understand and editors have always helped consumers cut through confusion.
Richmond uses the analogy of the finance sections of newspaper websites where editors have utilised the interactive nature of the internet by creating online ‘calculators’. They help users calculate aspects of their finances, like whether to switch mortgages or not. Such calculators could be used by news site visitors to input some of the data they are getting from their wearables –with editorial advice available and relevant to your calculated results.
What is an opportunity for editors is also an opportunity for the growing number of native advertising teams within news brand companies.
The next wave of disruption?
Wearables are probably where we were with smartphones in 2007. Nobody knew the vast range of applications that would soon become available with the launch of the App Store the following year. Back in 2007 they were talking about the iPhone as simply a better phone, a music repository and somewhere to access the Internet. That sounds so basic now.
Mobile is changing how we consume news, for a start. So too wearables will change how we consume news. The reach into our pockets for a phone will soon seem to be as much an interruptive journey as the trip to the newsagents has become. Perhaps we’ll soon judge whether the reach to phone is worthwhile by what we see on our wrist. If it doesn’t seem worthwhile, we’ll simply get on with our lives – less interrupted.
Wearables are set to be the next big disruption in digital. There will be others, but now we have the stats telling us how big wearables are going to be, it’s time to start thinking about how we’re going to use them to get news to the people wearing them.
Neil Sharman is a research and insight consultant who has worked with media brands including News UK and Centaur, and also works with YouGov. You can find his website here. This article orginally appeared on his blog here.