What’s the Future for Wearable Tech?

There can be little doubt that wearable technology is going to affect the future of fashion, but how is it going to become fashionable?

Published: August 2017
Video/Photos: Apple, Fitbit, Moov, Sensoria, Ringly, Shutterstock

Wearable tech is at a crossroads. Smart technology has developed to a point where it’s small enough to be integrated not only with smartwatches and smartglasses, but into fabric, too. Could these “smart garments” be what wearable tech needs to become a sustainable part of the fashion industry?

 

Wearable tech has certain advantages over interfaces like touchscreens. Its most compelling offering is that it integrates with both our bodies and our environment, making everything about technology quicker and more immediate.

 

Rather than pushing a button, you can give a voice command. To operate smartglasses, for example, you can give a command by winking an eye or making a gesture. Also, like the dashboard and windscreen of the BMW VISION NEXT 100, smartglasses can give us feedback on the environment around us. And smartwatches can read information about our bodies, further blurring the line between inner and exterior realities.

 

Wearable tech has its origins in the realm of medicine, by monitoring the health of people with diabetes or hypertension, for example. The most obvious mainstream application for this kind of technology was exercise and fitness monitoring. And this remains one of wearable tech’s central markets. Again, innovation in the field, particularly in the area of smart garments, has concentrated on sports: from the recent Moov HR Sweat, which is a fitness-monitoring headband, to shirts, socks and shorts from the likes of Polar, Sensoria and Lumo Run that provide similar functionality.

Wearable tech

 
Wearable tech’s most compelling offering is that it has the potential to change the way we interact with technology.
Moov HR Sweat headband
The Moov HR Sweat headband is an example of how smart garments are changing the world of fitness.
Wearable tech has potential to intergrate with our bodies
Rather than interacting with an interface like a screen, wearable technology has the potential to become integrated with our bodies.
Smartwatch
A smartwatch reads information about our bodies, blurring the line between where our interaction with technology begins and ends.
Ringly's jewellery - smart technology everyday fashion
Ringly’s jewellery shows how smart technology can effortlessly and elegantly become part of everyday fashion.

See what the Levi Commuter jacket can do for you.

 

Sportswear

Sensoria’s sportswear is the next step in incorporating smart technology into the health and fitness industry.

The first step out of the realm of athletics kit in the field of smart garments has been Google and Levi’s smart jacket, which is slated for release at SXSW later this year. It’s a jacket aimed at cycle commuters that allows them not only to track their own activity, but also to control music, read and send messages, and get directions, mostly by using gesture control.

 

But the fact remains, despite a fair uptake in fitness trackers, mainstream interest has been limited. Product abandonment rates are high – stats show that 30% of people abandon their Fitbits after six months. And one of the early innovators in the field, Jawbone, has recently gone into liquidation.

 

Wearable tech knows that to be profitable, it has to become fashionable, but how can designers convince people to wear it? Or rather, how can they design wearable tech so that people (mainstream fashion-wearers, not fitness fanatics and tech geeks) want to wear it?

 

Technology crosses a line when people start wearing it. It means that the requirements for its build have to comply more with the rules of fashion design than those of technology.

 

Take, for example, the difference between a smartphone and a smartwatch. The first is an accessory. Most of us have them on our persons during most waking hours. We choose their colours carefully. We decorate them. To an extent, we use them to express ourselves, but essentially they’re little interactive screens we carry around, more useful for their apps than for their physical character.

 

But we actually wear smartwatches, giving them the potential to enhance or detract from our appearances in a much more immediate way than something we can slide into our pockets or handbags.

 

To bridge the divide between tech and fashion, brands from both fields are forming collaborations. A while ago, Apple teamed up with Hermès to introduce aspects of high design and materials to a version of the Apple Watch to give it a sophisticated gloss and integrate it better with other luxury fashion, jewellery and accessories.

 

Misfit, Huawei and Samsung all collaborated with Swarovski to release special editions of their smartwatches. (Swarovski has further plans to release its own smartwatch with Huawei technology, but plans to unveil the new design in June were delayed). Michael Kors has helped Fossil with smartwatch designs. Tory Burch has designed accessories for Fitbits. Tag Heuer’s new smartwatch, the Connected Modular 45, comes with more than 50 customisable variations. Some companies have even crossed over into other kinds of jewellery, such as Ringly’s smart rings and bracelets.

 

It’s clear that the drive is to integrate wearable tech better with existing fashion. The strategy, it would seem, is that by making wearable tech fashionable, the barriers that prevent mainstream uptake will disappear.

 

But this approach misses a more fundamental problem with wearable tech: despite its obvious potential and exciting possibilities, it still can’t answer a few major questions. We can start to see what wearable tech can do for us, but no one has significantly addressed the question of why we’d want it to do what it can do.

 

The smartwatch, for example, still faces the dual challenge that a smartphone does exactly what it does, but better. And a traditional watch does the other part of what it offers better too. Simply making wearable tech look a bit like existing fashion accessories does not provide a compelling enough reason to change the way we dress.

 

Somewhat unexpectedly, the problem isn’t that they’re difficult to wear with current fashion; it’s that they haven’t become so irresistibly useful, so revolutionary in what they themselves offer, that they’ll change the way we wear everything else.

 

Wearable tech isn’t all that’s changing the way we interact with our world. Find out how 3D printing is bridging the gap between engineering and art and discover how the BMW VISION NEXT 100 is bringing the future into our present.

 
There can be little doubt that some sort of augmented reality will form part of the way we dress in the future.