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Hardware makers love wearables, but consumers are perplexed

Wearables? ability to link with services from healthcare to business is a big trend at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year, even as new research suggests consumers struggle to use high-tech devices, raising questions for marketers.

From the small Ring, whose built-in sensors permit gesture-enabled feature control on a smartphone, to the Visijax commuter cycling jacket with sleeve turn indicators and night-visibility LEDs, wearables are already making noise at CES, a global Las Vegas stage. The attention on wearables comes amid research showing that eight out of 10 consumers encounter problems setting up and using new technology. 

?There?s a lot of opportunity here, and if you?re in this space as a marketer type person the technology is finally getting to a place where there will be some interesting scenarios for you,? said J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals, for Forrester Research.

?Services are a really critical component [with wearables] and I think that?s where a lot of marketers will have an opportunity here as well,? the analyst said in a phone interview from CES. ?Wearables are interesting insofar as they take data from that device, to the cloud, and then they perform some analytics on them to help you make better decisions or live a better life or get information in your mobile home.

?It?s about that intelligence that lives in the cloud and this is where people ? whether you?re a brand marketer or somebody who has some service that is valuable ? have a potential down the line to intersect with that person,? he said.

Apple Watch
Although wearables have been big at CES for the past two years, Apple?s unveiling of its Apple Watch last year legitimized the platform. 

?When Apple gets into a product area they tend to do it right, teach people why it matters,? Mr. Gownder said. ?It educates the public on the possibilities.? 

Chrysler connected-car app.

The wearables CES party was disrupted by a report from Accenture stating that most consumers experience challenges using several new types of smart high tech devices, including wearables.

Overall, 83 percent report various problems when they use new device types such as wearable fitness monitors, smart watches, smart home thermostats, in-vehicle entertainment systems, home connected surveillance cameras and security systems, and wearable health products, according to the Accenture report, ?Engaging the Digital Consumer in the New Connected World.?

The biggest challenges consumers face are that the smart devices are ?too complicated to use? (21 percent), ?set-up did not proceed properly? (19 percent), and ?did not work as advertised? (19 percent), according to the report.

The report quoted Sami Luukkonen, managing director for Accenture?s Electronics and High Tech group, as saying that tech companies need to go back to the drawing board to focus on the customer experience, and make fundamental strategic changes that no longer focus on product feature differentiation but rather holistic, digital experience differentiation.

Apple, whose smart watch will be fully introduced sometime this year, is seen as an example of a tech company that strives to educate potential buyers about how they can integrate its features into their lives.

Wearables highlighted at CES so far, according to CNET, include the Narrative Clip, an iOS and Android app-supported camera that weighs 20 grams or 0.7 ounce, equipped with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for automatically uploading shots.

The list also includes Withings Activite Pop, a water-resistant smartwatch with two dials ? one for time and one showing the percentage of activity goal achievement ? and the Ring, which uses built-in sensors to let uses manage some smartphone features through gestures.

Another wearable darling is Visijax cyclewear, a line of waterproof jackets with on-sleeve turn indicators and LEDs for night visibility.

Connected cars
In other CES news, Chrysler unveiled a new connected car app that will let Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep owners schedule a health report, locate cars with phones, and send destinations to the navigation system remotely, according to CNET.

The app connectivity joins existing data-connected services in UConnect, such as Yelp, stolen vehicle tracking, Pandora and iHeartRadio.

Google Cast
Google Cast is Google?s signature technology at CES, enabled in TVs, sound systems and set-top boxes.

Among the innovations, Google Cast for Audio lets users wirelessly control and send music playing on an iOS, Android device or Chrome browser to new Google Cast-enabled audio gear, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Instead of pairing a phone to a Bluetooth speaker or investing in a wireless system to control the music around a house, users connect the Google Cast-compatible product to an existing Wi-Fi network, where it can access the Internet.

Instead of using a phone, tablet or computer as the source of the music or video, the Google Cast device pulls it down from the cloud. 

LoopPay's digital wallet solution lets users tap to pay with a card, a smaller key fob, an iPhone case with an extra battery or a second case with a storage slot for an ID.

By connecting the GoTenna to a smartphone, the user can text and share a location even without cellular service.

Netatmo Welcome is a security camera that uses face recognition to send alerts when someone enters the user?s home.

Taking off
Even without Apple?s endorsement, wearables were poised to take off.

Visijax cycling jacket. 

?We?re reaching an inflection point where not only are there tons and tons of interesting products, but people are actually starting to buy them,? Mr. Gownder said. 

?Forty-five percent of online U.S. adults agree with the statement, ?I?m intrigued by the prospect of getting a wearable device,?? he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.