Wearable tech gear is a hugely profitable industry in the making.
A version of this article originally appeared on our US site, Fool.com.
As investors, we are always searching for the next big thing that will catapult our favourite stocks to fresh highs. Be it a new technology, the must-have trend or a revolutionary discovery. All of the products we rely on today were at one time considered "the next big thing". So what's next? According to Forrester Research, wearable tech gear is about to go mainstream. Let's take a look at how you can grab a piece of the action.
Seeing is believing
A term you want to be familiar with before we go any further is augmented reality. AR is a technology that integrates a computer-generated image with a user's real-world surroundings. It may sound like I'm describing a scene from the movie The Matrix. But in truth, versions of this technology are already in use today across various industries.
Think heads-up display in luxury vehicles -- a feature that will come standard in General Motors' (NYSE: GM.US) newly redesigned 2013 Denali SUV. Heads-up display projects important information onto the windshield so that drivers can view directions, traffic warnings and other key indicators, while keeping their eyes on the road.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG.US) gave us a more recent example when it tested its new heads-up display glasses in public. According to The New York Times, Google plans to get the augmented reality glasses to market by the end of the year.
A person wearing a pair of Google Glasses would be able to look out the window and see the temperature or weather data as an overlay to what they see outside. If the rumours are accurate, the data-enhanced glasses will run on a 3G or 4G data connection. Reports also indicate that the new shades will run on the Android platform and cost between $250 and $600.
Battle for your eyes
Google isn't the only company hoping to bring augmented reality to your eyes. Oakley, which is owned by Luxottica Group (NYSE: LUX.US), says it's been developing similar technology glasses. The so-called sports performance lifestyle brand claims to have been testing the smart glasses for 15 years and now owns about 600 patents related to the technology.
Oakley definitely has an advantage from a style perspective, although Google wins on the technical front -- with a $600 price tag, consumers will want glasses that can do more than simply make a fashion statement.
Wearable devices in general have been around for years; in fact Nike's (NYSE: NKE.US) relatively new Nike + FuelBand is getting plenty of love from the health and fitness crowd in the US (it has a May release date in the UK). The athletic wristband tracks your movements to measure how active you've been. Users can then sync the results to their iPhone to display their fitness data and set future goals.
At $149 a pop, the band seems a bit pricey given its basic functionality. The FuelBand uses a standard accelerometer and a thin LED display that lights up green when you get moving. This is a bit underwhelming for a brand that touts its image as gear made for serious athletes. Yet, as it turns out, thousands of Nike + FuelBand customers disagree with me. The Fool's Rick Munarriz was able to get one of the limited quantities available for pre-order before they sold out.
This isn't the first time Nike's shown us its geeky tech side. In 2006, the sports giant teamed up with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL.US) to bring shoe innovation to a new level. The two innovators created Nike+ iPod Sport Kit. Apple contributed the technology, which let a runner's iPod communicate with a tiny sensor under the inner sole of the Nike shoe. This allowed users to hear occasional voice prompts over the music that would tell them their pace and the distance they had run.
The result? Nike fans everywhere let out a celebratory "Swoosh!"
It's easy to see why Nike is the world's largest sporting-goods maker, and Apple the world's most valuable company. But what moneymaking partnerships can we expect from this new "wearables" market in the future? Perhaps Oakley will license its treasure trove of patents to Google for a new pair of spectacles. For now, I'm betting on Google and Nike's continued dominance in the space.
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