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CES 2014: Wearable Tech and the Future of Research

The future of research is first-person research.

Let me explain.  Seeing the world from a first-person perspective – through the eyes and experiences of the subject, not the observer – allows researchers and their organisations to use empathy – a key part of our emotional intelligence – to better understand consumers and so better cater to their lives and experiences by feeling what the consumer is feeling.  Think Gravity, Cloverfield and Blair Witch; first-person movies are more emotionally intense; you feel what the protagonist feels.

Which is why we were so excited to see wearable tech as something of a hero at this year’s 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.  Wearable tech – smartphone connected wearables such as bracelets, glasses, socks and clothes – provide a naturalistic first-person and mobile view of the consumer world.  CES 2014 saw the launch of more smart Glasses – Epson’s Movero, Vuzis M100 – to compete with Google Glass, more smartbands – LG lifeband, Sony smartband/lifelog, as well as the Mimo Baby – a smart onesie for infants that measures breathing, motion, temperature and sleeping habits.

Whilst wearable tech is typically associated with the ‘quantified self’ and quantitative research, number-crunching voluminous streams of ‘Big Data’,  we see a big role for smartphone-connected wearable tech in qualitative research – to better understand consumer behaviour by providing an immersive, mobile first-person perspective.

Of course, first person research is not new – participant observation is a classic – and powerful – qualitiative method, and personal passive ‘life-logging’ recorders such as FishEye and Microsoft’s SenseCam – a sub-cam (subject-based camera) have been used in research for years.  What’s different is that new consumer tech is more discreet, more natural, more effortless and intuitive. CES 2014 saw the advent of digital ethnography done right.

Sure, there are issues with wearable tech and first-person research, notably privacy and data-overload. But the promise of seeing the world through the eyes of of your customer, client or consumer and using human empathy to drive innovation is a powerful proposition. You feel me?

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