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?
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.
The first step out of the realm of athletics kit in the field of smart garments was Google and Levi’s smart jacket. 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. The Jacquard – which was announced in 2015 – got its first major app update this year, which includes notifications (the jacket vibrates) when Lyft or Uber rides are arriving.
But the fact remains, despite a fair uptake in fitness trackers, mainstream interest has been limited. Product abandonment rates are high – Gartner research published in late 2016 showed that 30% of people abandon their Fitbits after six months. And one of the early innovators in the field, Jawbone – once worth US$3 billion – went into liquidation in 2017.
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. Apple’s Apple Watch Series 4 Hermès was developed by the tech giants and the fashion house, with aspects of high design and materials giving it a sophisticated gloss which allows it to integrate better with other luxury fashion, jewellery and accessories.