“If we’re going to get people to wear sensors, they either have to be gorgeous or invisible.” Sonny Vu – Founder/CEO of Misfit Wearables
Depending on your generation, different heroes wowed you with high tech accessories. James Bond was the king of exotic, unthinkable equipment, Batman always had a new tool under his cape. Every 80’s kid wanted a hand phone like Inspector Gadget, and Disney princesses had nothing on Wonder Woman’s tiara which doubled as a deadly boomerang. While the weapons haven’t quite gone mainstream, some of these then-fictional accessories have come to life.
Yes the wearable market has existed for decades, but now microprocessors are compact enough for the wearable category to reach real life fruition. Built first for function, these devices have surely captured the marginal interest of consumers…but none have fully captivated a massive stand-in-line-for-hours-like-the-release-of-iPhone large scale obsession.
So today’s innovators in Silicon Valley and beyond have not only the task to impress with cutting edge function, but to equally impress with style. The device needs an aesthetically pleasing allure – to look sophisticated, sleek, even sexy. This demand for the next tech hottie has created an exciting new space for current tech giants and new companies – but it looks like there’s a long way to go.
Current Giants Get Fashion Forward…And Struggle
Google caught widespread attention with the unveiling of wearable pioneer Google Glass last year, but have yet to make Glass a success. Studies continue to show that only around 9% of American consumers would actually consider purchasing the device if they could afford it. The reasoning ranges from privacy concerns to a lacking awareness of the utility Glass provides, but continued resistance is around the way Glass looks. Particularly, how Glass makes the wearer look. Consumers currently have no other base to compare Glass to, which causes confusion around what the device actually does as well as fear of being the only one with odd, arguably invasive glasses.
While Google is still grappling with acceptance, Intel too has jumped in the wearable game. The mega company announced in September their new focus on wearables as an attempt to utilize their resources and intellectual property. Thus came the announcement of their smart bracelet MICA, My Intelligent Communication Accessory. MICA is set to debut to the public this month, a showcase at Barney’s for a relatively affordable $495. Yet early reviews of the device are less than encouraging, revealing that while MICA is a stunning intersection of high fashion and technology, too much of the focus is on flash and less about technological substance.
New, Exclusively Wearable Companies
As Google and other giants struggle, their woes reveal that the biggest problem with the wearable industry is that no one has figured it out yet. Yet at the same time this is just as much good news, allowing startups and relative tech nobodys to jump in the game and possibly get on the map. ABI Research estimated in February 2013 that 61% percent of the wearable market was attributed to fitness or activity tracking purposes. This leaves ample opportunity for developers to create new solutions wearable technology can solve.
For example, the Sesame Ring is a 3-D printed ring, complete with an RFID card and a fully functional subway pass. Available for only $25, students at MIT invented the lightweight ring praised as the “ultimate accessory for fashionistas.”
In addition to streamlining transportation, wearables are also breaching the safety sector. Guardian Angel is a jewel looking pendant developed in support of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) to provide a couple of security uses. The $100 – $120 pendant can be worn as a necklace or bracelet complete with a small button that triggers a fake call to the wearer’s phone. This is intended to get the user out of uncomfortable situations, for example an awkward blind date with your sister’s friend’s tax accountant or an excruciatingly long holiday confabulation with your privacy-invading Aunt.
Fashion Pros Dress Up Devices
Building technology while keeping fashion in mind is only one piece of the wearable industry pie. Well known fashion designers have entered from the purely fashion side, pairing technology with their already fashionable lines of clothing and accessories. For example Ralph Lauren’s “polo tech” compression shirts debuted in the 2014 US Open, monitoring athletes’ breathing and heart rate.
Yet another space for burgeoning designers is dressing up already fully functional wearables, which may not have mastered aesthetic appeal on their own. Elite fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg designed DVF Made for Glass, glasses intended to make the struggling Google Glass a more desirable accessory for the fashion forward. Similarly, San Diego based FUNKtional wearables creates exclusive accessories suited for Fitbit and other activity trackers. Complete with an entire line of accessories such as bracelets and necklaces, FUNKtional provides a host of designs for anyone interested in monitoring fitness goals while maintaining an eye on fashion.
The wearable industry is new, exciting and full of possibilities. However no one has found the secret sauce to bring on the masses, but chances are someone will. Wearables dominance is up for grabs but the question is, which device will finally find big time success?
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