Wearable devices, or “wearables” for short, have enormous potential for uses in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, commerce, and media. Imagine video games that happen in real space. Or glasses that remind you of your colleague’s name that you really should know. Or paying for a coffee at Starbucks with your watch instead of your phone. Wearables will transform our lives in numerous ways, trivial and substantial, that we are just starting to imagine.

In a new Forrester report out today, we argue that wearables will move mainstream once they get serious investment from the “big five” platforms — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook — and their developer communities, and we give advice to product strategists who want to stay ahead of the wearables curve. Key takeaways:

  • Wearables are here, and more innovation is coming. We’ve all seen the movies: Gadget-laden heroes from James Bond to the Terminator to Iron Man have long relied on voice-controlled watches and heads-up display glasses to extend their powers. Now, those gadgets are a reality, albeit a niche one. Google co-founder Sergei Brin was recently spotted wearing a prototype from Google’s Project Glass. People you know may even be wearing sensor-laden wristbands like the Nike+Fuelband or sneakers like the Adidas adizero F50, which track your speed and workout stats. The military is prototyping dual-focus contact lenses with data displays, while university students experiment with clothing that reacts to our emotions. Nokia has filed a patent for a vibrating tattoo that could alert you when someone calls or texts you — the ultimate wearable.
  • Wearables need backing from the big five platforms to succeed. Wearables without software are just geeky hardware. The big five software platforms — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook – each have strengths to bring to wearables. Apple has the most polished marketing, channel, and brand. Google has an open platform and gives license to dabble. Microsoft has the best depth sensor yet. Amazon has information on more than 100 million products and their buyers. Facebook has a Rolodex — and facial recognition — for 800 million people. These platforms — and their developer communities — hold the key to the consumer connection and have the power to elevate wearables from geeky hardware to more mainstream uses.   
  • Wearables will heighten the platform wars — and Google may actually win. Apple's iOS ecosystem has already inspired a host of wearable accessories, like the Lark sleep sensor and now-discontinued Jawbone UP. But Google's open Android platform will inspire broader experimentation for entire wearable solutions. Android is already the platform of choice for Foxconn-funded startup WIMM Labs as well as the Sony SmartWatch.

Product strategists who want to stay ahead of the curve should take a cue from companies like Intuit and experiment with wearables now, especially if you’re in an industry that will be disrupted by wearables, including apparel, software, media, gaming, and commerce.