Are wearable cameras the future?
Are wearable cameras really about to become the next big thing? The gradual failure of technologies such as Google Glass and GoPro suggests that it is a tough market, but a company called Opkix believes it can fill the gap with a product that sits at the midpoint between cameras, mobile phones and social media.
The majority of our modern digital lives have been heavily text based, but more often than not we now rely on video and pictures to receive and transmit information and our online personalities. The amazingly rapid growth of services like YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram is good evidence of this, as is the ‘pivot to video’ trend that threatens to swallow the content industry whole.
The basic theory is that people’s attention spans are shortening and information that can be shown in a single picture or a short video is more likely to be engaged with than text. Whether this is true or not – and there is no evidence to say that this is the case – it is an idea which is appealing to technology companies looking for the largest audience possible.
This is where the Opkix One comes in. The device is a small, stylishly designed camera which is worn around the neck and allows the user to record short videos at the push of a button. These videos can then be instantly uploaded to social media sites. Crucially the camera is of a notably higher quality than what can be found on a smartphone. The appeal to younger people is obvious, but the creators also note that this product will be easier for older people who might not feel comfortable fiddling about with modern phones.
Persuading people to purchase a wearable camera in addition to their smartphone is an idea which, at this stage, seems wildly optimistic. However the idea that anyone would spend hundreds of pounds on a phone with a low quality camera attached, on top of purchasing a normal DLSR was seen as unbelievable when the original wave of smartphones was released – but here we are in a world where more than 1.5 billion are sold every year.
Opkix is betting on the fact that the hardware itself is barely the point. The fact is that if it is the best, easiest fit for the lifestyles of people who spend lots of time uploading pictures and videos to the internet then they will buy it. If the Opkix One manages to be the first device that is functional, fashionable and affordable then it may well be that rare new technology which arrives at just the right time. At a cost of US$350 for a standard unit the Opkix One is not outrageously expensive in a world where the annual iteration of the iPhone can sell for around £1,000 despite being nothing more than a variation on a theme. The lesson is that if you can make your hardware seem cool and desirable people will pay a lot of money for it even if it does nothing new.
Investors seem to agree that the age of the wearable camera might finally be upon us; Opkix raised US$5.4m in series A funding in 2017 and has recently raised a further US$5.7m in series B funding. The interest in this product is real and the funding rounds put the value of the company at US$200m. Not quite into tech ‘unicorn’ territory, but not a bad start.
With this sort of backing it becomes worthwhile to consider secondary consequences of the technology if it ends up being as popular as the investors hope. Individuals might like the convenience offered by the Opkix One, but is there a risk that people will end up being surreptitiously filmed without their knowledge or consent? Personally I find the idea of large numbers of people walking around recording everything on their wearable cameras intrusive and creepy, but it isn’t hard to see it becoming the new normal in the future. The Circle, a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers and later a film starring Tom Hanks, famously laid out a dystopian future where privacy was made a thing of the past by wearable camera technology and, whilst this may be a worst case reality, it highlights what could become a real concern.
After all, we are already under the heaviest surveillance in history from day-to-day – why would people care about a few more cameras?