I have a style and wearable tech isn’t it. Not yet, anyway.

By: Debbie Stocker

Wearable technology is an evolving marketplace. Although some would argue that the market is not new—Thomas Stuermer, senior executive with Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech group, observed that the term ‘wearable device’ was used as early as the 1990s and the first watch with a digital display was unveiled in 1972—advents such as Google Glass are thought to be the start of a present day wearable revolution.

Earlier this year, Credit Suisse predicted that the wearable technology market will increase tenfold to as much as $50 billion USD over the next 3 to 5 years. Others also believe that wearable devices will explode in popularity over the next year. Whether you agree with the figures or not, it’s inevitable that wearable tech is here to stay.

That said, I read an interesting article earlier last week in which John Holt Ripley, Front End Developer at Linney Design, wrote:

Wearable technology—things like Google Glass and the Nike FuelBand—have a bit of a problem in that they’re not particularly wearable. They’re designed as devices rather than accessories to clothing.

Even the Samsung Gear isn’t that big an improvement on the calculator watch I had in the eighties.

Ripley instead showcased the new, and rather beautiful, Shine by Misfit Wearables.

Shine is a waterproof, wireless, activity and sleep monitor that can be worn as a discrete accessory anytime, anywhere. In Misfit’s words, it has been “built to last a lifetime,” in a “timeless, award-winning design” that is “precision-crafted from aerospace grade aluminium”.

What impressed me as I flicked through Misfit’s website is that, in many photos, Shine is almost imperceptible—it’s a button hole, a necklace (above), a brooch, a badge.  Admittedly the bracelet form is more similar to other devices, such as the Jawbone UP, but in its essence, Shine seems more akin to jewellery than another wristband.

Many consumers no doubt embrace wearable devices in a recognisably technological form—Peter Brown observed that an estimated 8 million Britons already don some form of wearable device and 39% intend to use wearable tech when it becomes more widely available. Some consumers even wear the technological form as a statement in itself. However, it is likely that wearable technology will not become a day to day reality until it becomes a subtle and integrated part of our lives.

Do I like the idea of a smart watch? Potentially but I’d rather wear a time piece that suits my style and femininity. Several commentators have similarly pointed out that Google Glass is great but they don’t wear glasses. Rosella, who worked as a designer for Valentino, observed that: “Google Glass is asking us to change the way we look on a daily basis…It might be fun in a work environment, but why would you want it to become your everyday style?”

Three photographs of different people wearing Google Glass. From left to right: 1) A man with a beard wearing a black leather cap, light grey cardigan and dark grey T-shirt; he is standing on a street and holding the index finger of his right hand to a white Google Glass. 2) A woman with short, reddish brown hair, wearing a red dress and standing in an office environment; she is wearing a blue Google Glass. 3) A young man and woman, both with blond hair and wearing grey T-shirts. He has his arms folded and she is holding a cup of coffee. Both are wearing blue Google Glass'.

Does that mean that we’re not target market? Perhaps but wearable tech also faces other, more practical challenges. For example, if I purchase an item of wearable clothing, inevitably the technology is only embedded into that particular piece. Say this item is a jacket, to avoid wearing the exact same jacket day after day, I need to purchase more than one of the same wearable device in different colours and styles. But even if I do this, I’m still locked into buying the same brand.

In contrast, my wardrobe today contains only one such item and that is a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans in two different shades—everything else is unique. Different brands, different styles, different colours, and even vintage. Understandably, this is why many devices are sold as an accessory but this returns us to the fact that they’re not very wearable.

Innovations in sports and cycling, such as the truly brilliant Hövding (described as an invisible bicycle helmet), the Sporty Supaheroe (a cycle jacket embedded with LEDs that sense body movement and directionality), and NuMetrex’s range of heart monitoring apparel (sports bra, men’s cardio shirt or women’s racer tank) seem to be a little more wearable but these devices are not designed for everyday activities or use. Several still also require additional transmitters.

 Three photographs of people wearing sports technology. From left to right: 1) A woman holding onto a railing and standing astride a white bicycle. She is wearing a black and white striped dress, a coffee coloured smart jacket and around her neck she is wearing a Hövding airbag. 2) A man sitting on a stool wearing sunglasses. He is also wearing a Sporty Supaheroe jacket and the white LEDs are lit either side of his chest. 3) A woman standing with her hands on her hips. She is wearing a blue NuMetrex sports bra.

In the longer term, and as argued by Liat Clark in Wired, it seems likely that for wearable tech to survive and thrive it will need to become as much a part, if not more, of the fashion industry as it is part of the technology market today. But again, for wearable tech to become truly mainstream, it needs not to get stuck in haute couture but to transition into something that the everyday (wo)man on the street is happy to wear.

As technologies both advance in capability and shrink in size, such a future becomes increasingly likely. At a recent Internet of Things Midlands Meetup, Neil Chilton, Technical Director and Co-Founder of Printed Electronics Ltd, shared that circuit boards can now be printed on some fabrics. With some such circuit boards being wafer thin, I imagine a day where I could pick out a dress and embedded in its fabric is imperceptible tech. Would I wear such a dress…just because it has tech in it? No. Because it looks fabulous? Oh yeah!

Image credits

Custom open dressing cabinets by ANYWAY doors on Flickr
Shine by Misfit Wearables
Google Glass by prae on Flickr
Google Glass and Future Health by tedeytan on Flickr
Google Glass OOB Experience by tedeytan on Flickr
Hövding Airbag for Cyclists
Sporty Supaheroe Jacket
NuMetrex Heart Rate Monitor Sports Bra

Article by:

Debbie Stocker

Debbie is director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. She's a great facilitator, researcher and strategist. With an approach that is both creative and methodical, Debbie combines her expertise in psychology with a strong commercial focus. Her signature strengths include kindness and a love of learning. She also line manages the office dog. Find out more

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