Firms turn focus to fashion of the future
A wristwatch that reads your text messages out loud, a jacket that heats up when you're cold, eyeglasses that display directions as you walk down the street.
Gimmicks, or fashion of the future?
Although those products may seem like something out of a James Bond movie, the world's largest technology companies and startups alike believe “wearable tech” is the next big frontier, and they have been pouring money and research into developing high-tech clothing and accessories.
“It's a function of time before wearable technology becomes real, and it's closer than a lot of people think,” said Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. “Eventually, wearable technology is probably going to be your most easy access point to your technology.”
Google Inc., the world's largest Internet company, has been testing augmented-reality eyeglasses that feature cameras and use voice recognition. Apple Inc. is reportedly working on a watch that would have some of the same functions as a smartphone.
The idea behind “wearables” is to integrate technology into everyday basics, but it's more than just inserting a gee-whiz factor into your favorite pair of jeans. Bringing tech into the fold, developers say, will lead to a more seamless experience with technology that involves fewer devices to carry around and less time rummaging through your purse or pocket.
But there are numerous challenges to overcome before wearable tech can become mainstream. Developers are working on improving battery life, scaling the technology down and making the products affordable.
Companies also need to persuade the public to accept the notion that digital devices and fashion can co-exist in one unit by designing wearables that don't look too techie and figuring out what kinds of functions to embed within the products.
“We have a lot of research to do,” said Cory Booth, a user experience researcher at Intel, which has a team looking into the potential for wearables. “It's actually more about will people want to do it and how will they want to do it. When people start putting things on their bodies, it becomes very personal.”
For now, wearable tech is taking off in the sports and health markets.
Goggles made by Oakley assist snowboarders via a display that integrates GPS capabilities, Bluetooth and sensors that gauge jump analytics such as distance, height and airtime. There's also smartphone connectivity and the ability to locate and track friends via an app.
With the Nike+ FuelBand, a wristband containing an accelerometer, wearers can set daily activity goals and track calories burned on the band's LED display. Data from the FuelBand — which Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has been seen wearing — can be viewed on an Apple mobile device via an application. The Up by Jawbone wristband and Fitbit wireless activity trackers are similar products that help users eat and sleep better and record their physical activity.
But tech companies have goals that stretch beyond fitness, with the goal of equipping clothing with mini computers and sensors.
The tech-fashion hybrid that has gotten the most attention so far is Google Glass, Web-connected eyeglasses that the company has been previewing to big buzz in recent months. The futuristic glasses are still in the early stages of development under the company's secretive Google X lab.
If clothing companies join tech firms in developing wearables, it could be a boon to the retail industry, which is generally cyclical when it comes to trends as opposed to groundbreaking.
Already, brands such as Uniqlo have been dabbling in tech-enhanced clothing, such as the retailer's Heattech tops and leggings made from material that turns moisture evaporating from the body into heat. And last week, the U.S. Postal Service said it would “produce rain, heat and snow apparel and accessories using technology to create ‘smart apparel,' also known as wearable electronics.”
Although wearables are still a ways from widespread, mass-market adoption, analysts say they could one day replace smartphones altogether. Some have hinted that wearables are the gateway to implantable technology, such as microchips and sensors lodged under the skin.
But with tech worn all over the body, and perhaps one day within the body, some wonder whether the clothes and accessories are truly simplifying life or just making it even more complicated.
“There's always the risk of over-complicating things,” Intel's Booth said. “There are a lot of good ideas out there and things that people might want to do with this advanced technology, but if you try to do too many of them at one time, the complexity sinks in.”
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Craft breweries proliferate in Pa., nationally with room to keep growing
- Warehouse will double Leed’s space in Westmoreland Business and Research Park
- Consumers spread joy to retailers
- Bid adieu to these vanishing vehicle models
- Don’t open email just because it showed up
- Replace brake fluid
- Refined family hauler receives update for 2015
- ‘Santa Claus’ rally continues; stocks hit all-time highs
- Global oil impact: Who’s hurting, happy, hopeful as prices plunge
- Changes abound at Uncle Charley’s Sausage, but taste isn’t one of them
- Cheap oil jamming rails to mean higher power bills