Wearable Tech: The Future of Functional Fashion

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words ‘wearable tech’? As of this day, I’m willing to bet it’s either Google Glass or Apple Watch, even though the former has not lived to the expectations and the latter has just recently released. Companies dabbling in wearables are mostly walking on thin ice and no product in this category is guaranteed to succeed. Although computers in various forms have been woven into our environment for quite a bit now, the marriage of technology and fashion is a rather unique one. Read the article for a review of the current state and the direction wearable tech may be heading into.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, let me give you a quick definition of what wearable tech is. Essentially, it’s “clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies”. Most of the times it’s designed for practical purposes, however, it may also serve purely aesthetic needs.

I feel like the point made in the latter part of the sentence is on the rise and will play increasingly important role if wearable tech is ever to catch on with consumers on a large scale, and not only as a curiosity.
Wearables could be considered a part of a larger concept known as ubiquitous computing. It’s philosophy assumes weaving computers into everyday life and creating seamless interaction with machines staying in the background, not demanding our attention.

The point is there’s no switching on and off of a wearable tech piece. Using it, you’re supposed to be able to multi-task and continue with what you’ve been doing without diverting your attention. The way I like to think about technology is that it becomes an extension of the user’s mind and/or body. Although smartphones aren’t exactly wearable tech (they’re definitely gadgets though, so the distinction is murky), they’re doing just that, remembering and giving access to a lot of information our brains would otherwise have to store.

The history of wearable tech

It’s hard not to notice that wearables are on the rise in the tech industry these days. From simple fitness wristbands to golden Apple Watch or Oculus Rift, some of the biggest brands are venturing into the sector.

It may come as a surprise to many, that the beginnings of wearable tech date all the way back to 1960’s and 70’s when it was designed to… well, cheat at the casino by counting cards and improving odds at the roulette table. From then on wearables have remained in the shadow, as technology wasn’t very practical. Take a look at the concise wearable tech timeline below for more information.

  • 1961 – a wearable computer that helped the gambler at a roulette table
  • 1972 – the George device implanted in its operators shoes, supposed to help at blackjack
  • 1975 – world’s first wrist calculator
  • 1981 – a camera attached to a helmet, linked to a computer in a backpack
  • 1987 – world’s first digital hearing aid
  • 1994 – Wearable Wireless Webcam deemed to be the first lifelogging device
  • 2000 – world’s first Bluetooth set
  • 2002 – Poma PC
  • 2003 – C-Series, world’s first fully digital pacemaker
  • 2006 – Nike+iPod
  • 2007 – Fitbit
  • 2009 – The W200
  • 2012 – Pebble smartwatch
  • 2013 – Google Glass
  • 2015 – Apple Smartwatch

PS. Ever had one of these bad boys?

The future of wearable tech

Right, so we’ve seen that wearable tech already has a couple of decades of development under its belt. I think it’s safe to say that even the biggest enthusiast would admit that unfortunately not much groundbreaking progress has been made so far.

Of course, experimental prototypes of smart garment keep appearing at various industry events. Nothing with much chance of being mass-produced, though. What is encouraging, however, is that according to GlobalWebIndex study, 71% of 16-24s are keen on wearable tech.

The topic is hot but wherever you look, opinions on the future of wearables are divided. There’s no consensus as to where exactly is this sector headed. So far, most of what we’ve seen are small gadgets like smart bands, smart jewellery and some smart watches.

Clothing is a lot different. It’s a bigger statement that you make with it. Fleshy real estate like fingers, wrists or necks is easier to redevelop in case the piece of wearable tech is not accepted by the owners environment. It’s usually a lot less in-your-face that a color-changing dress or a display blazer too.

So, what’s the fate of wearable tech? Is it doomed to never reach its full potential? What’s that potential anyway?

Changes like that take time and we’ve grown accustomed to everything happening fast these days. Remember when phones were just that – phones? You could make a phone call, send a message and that was it. Now? Oh boy, I don’t know all the built-in functions of my smartphone so don’t even get me started on apps.

The same thing is happening with our environment. It becomes increasingly functional and saturated with information. I’m not saying our generation will have indestructible, self-cleaning shirts but I don’t see how that’s something most people wouldn’t want.

What does wearable tech need to make it work?

An interesting opinion I saw, regarding wearable tech, was that there are brands, that may not necessarily want to implement new technologies into their products, as they wish to upkeep certain image and loyal customers. Many traditional luxury clothing companies would probably like to preserve the brand they’ve built, instead of mindlessly jumping on the latest tech wagon just because it’s available.

Alright, let me get to my point. I believe that for wearable tech to work, it has to be a marriage of style, design and useful technology. In other words, it not only has to be functional but also, and maybe even more importantly, look good.

The wearables that companies will want to sell people will have to tap into certain intangibles like imagination, fascination with luxury and craving top-quality. Basically, they’ll have to sell dreams just as fashion does these days. I’ve seen the term ‘fashionology’ and I think it conveys very well the fact that stylish tech adds another element to and boosts one’s game of being hip.

Obviously, women’s fashion has been going strong, men’s is undergoing a renaissance. A claim which is supported by the number of brands popping up, as well as those established ones doing better than ever. A report has surfaced, that Apple has been hiring fashion-focused store staff in the wake of Apple Smartwatch premiere. I’m pretty sure other brands will take notes.

Final word

I’d like your biggest takeaway from this post to be the appreciation of the fact that we’re living in truly remarkable times. The sheer existence of wearable tech is in itself amazing and we’ve yet to see it grow on a large scale and reach its potential.

There are profound questions cropping out as wearables make their way into our world. How are they going to affect our lives? Are they the next big thing? Is this a life-changing, revolutionary technological advancement?

Obviously, there’s plenty of doubts too. Washability, life-cycle, energy supply. On the other hand, are the clothes as we know them the best there can be? Is that what we’ll settle for for an indefinite future?

To close out, I’ll reiterate my point, where I said that wearable tech will have to be beautifully designed to ever become truly widespread. This seems to be the case with any technology, from the color of microwaves to the sleek silhouette of space shuttle, it all has certain aesthetics about it. It will only be more obvious with fashion as I doubt a lot of people will want to look like a character from a bad sci-fi flick.