September 18th, 2013

Will Wearable Technology Ever be Fashionable?

‘Wearables’ are currently seen as a substantial opportunity for technology development by companies like Apple. CEO Tim Cook said at a recent conference that wearables like Google Glass will prove to be “a very key branch of the tree”. But will technological eyewear ever be able to compete with wristwear? Even Cook himself said that he was more excited about a wrist-based product than glasses.

Although glasses – whether prescriptive or not – have been sold as a fashion accessory for many years, the general response to Google Glass is that eyewear remains a step too far when it comes to an everyday technology device. The fashion industry begs to differ, however, with prominent audience members like Sergey Brin and Diane von Fustenberg wearing their Google eyewear at New York Fashion Week, and Vogue’s Futuristic Vision of Fashion shoot displaying the technology as a desirable accessory – but there’s a stark difference between haute couture and daily functionality.

When it comes to wearable products, smartwatches like Samsung’s Gear and the iWatch concept are not only more socially acceptable but easier to use. Smartphones are becoming a constant presence in our hands – but given the choice of how to make your phone more easily accessible, would you rather it were strapped to your wrist or your face? A wrist-based device also allows us to disengage when we need to, whereas the reliance that might develop with eyewear technology can feel like the plot of a sci fi disaster movie. One argument against smartwatches is the fact that increasing numbers of young people don’t even wear a watch in the first place, preferring to check the time on their ever-present smartphone instead, but surely it’s a shorter jump from hand to wrist than hand to eye?

One of the latest wristbands, the Jawbone UP, is marketed to people looking to keep track of their health and fitness, allowing you to measure your sleep, activity, rest periods and even what you eat. The device can also connect with an app on your smartphone to show you a daily graph of your progress, but while this may be intriguing on a novelty basis, technology with just one focus is unlikely to survive for very long compared to a multi-function device like a smartphone. Besides, it’s not all that difficult to work out how many hours’ sleep you got without a special wristband, is it?

Smartphones have steadily increased in size until they morph into tablets, leaving a potential gap in the market for smaller, more versatile solutions. But for a wearable device to rise above the realm of fashion accessories it will need to provide the same (or better) capabilities as a smartphone; it will need to be comfortable and unobtrusive; it will need to be aesthetically appealing; it will need to link seamlessly and wirelessly with other technology – and for me, such a device does not belong on my face.

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