The tech industry’s favourite wearable tech headline for a while has been “PRODUCT NAME is the wearable you’d actually wear’ or ‘PRODUCT NAME is actually wearable.’
But it’s time to put that zinger to bed, don’t you think? We’ve been considering wearing this stuff since 2012 and it’s getting old. (Ed’s note: We’ve tried not to do this in a while, shame us if we have.) Still, it’s pretty obvious that there are now a whole bunch of wearables that people are happy to wear, tens of millions of people in fact according to sales figures for 2015.
9 Jan 2016, CNET: “Samsung’s smart clothes are wearables you’d actually wear”
31 Oct 2015, Ars Technica: “Fossil Q wearables: smartwatches that actually look good”
26 Aug 2015, Alphr: “Samsung Gear S2 actually looks like a watch you’d wear”
30 Sept 2014, The Verge: “Basis’ new fitness tracker actually looks like something you’d want to wear all day and all night”
2 July 2014, Gizmodo: “LG G Watch review: A wearable you’ll actually consider wearing”
20 Aug 2013, Wired: (on Meta) “Google Glass reborn as something you’d actually want to wear”
14 Nov 2012, FastCo Exist: “The Shine: A Self-Tracking Device You’d Wear Even If It Didn’t Do Anything”
What are these lazy headlines referring to though? What wouldn’t we actually wear? Ugly, ill thought through devices like the Samsung Gear 2, that’s what. The good news is that we can forget that ever happened. The Gear S2 and the like are stylish enough for early adopters to get on well with and as that smartwatch form factor gets smaller, thinner and longer lasting, even screen based wearables are sneaking into the mainstream.
The year of the connected accessory
In fashion tech terms, 2016 is the year of the smart accessory. There are plenty of exciting developments in smart clothing – for everything from sports to emotional expression to VR controls but most of this is still at the research/crowdfunding stage and won’t be on regular bodies for another year or so.
There are a couple of different fashion plays that wearable tech startups and teams can choose from. You can try to build a piece of technology that looks, feels and behaves like a dumb accessory or item of clothing, either going it alone or partnering with fashion companies.
Or you can try to go the Apple Watch route and design well, something new. The middle ground is something like Ringly’s smart ring and its new Aries smart bracelets – they look dumb until you feel the vibration or notice the little LED on the side.
The Fossil method
How it’s making fashion tech work: Chances are if you encounter a tech fashion accessory this year it will be made by the Fossil Group which plans to launch 100 different wearables by the end of 2016. We saw the latest of these at SXSW and Baselworld and there are a ton of well known brands involved.
Read this: 20 wearables that are more chic than geek
Now, while each of these wearables with have a completely different style and build, what both the Fossil Group wearables and the HP and Movado partnerships have in common is that they take existing tech and modify the design to appeal to existing customers of those big fashion brands.
Aside from some exceptions such as the interesting screen tech on the HP Isaac Mizrahi smartwatch and Fossil’s great work with its slick, branded Q app, the story is very much making the style conscious version of existing devices. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
What to look for in 2016 and beyond: More Fossil wearables, the Michael Kors Access Android Wear watches plus smart analogue and smartwatches from Armani, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Juicy Couture, Diesel and Kate Spade. Plus the blingy Gear S2 de Grisogono edition and the second collection of Topshop bPay accessories.
The Ringly method
How it’s making fashion tech work: The Fossil way isn’t always applicable, though, especially for more experimental categories such as smart jewellery and sports wearables. Wearable tech startups such as Ringly are designing the hardware from the ground up to make sure it is the best possible combination of fashion and technology.
And fashion and jewellery companies such as Nixon and Swarovski are considering the design and the features in tandem – making The Mission waterproof as well as having a mic for voice commands, for instance, or Swarovski’s solar charging crystals.
“You have these tech companies that try to outsource the jewellery design, partner with a jewellery company and something gets lost in translation,” Ringly’s CEO Christina Mercando d’Avignon told us.
“Or you have your typical fashion company trying to do the technology themselves and it falls short. The secret sauce is being fully integrated because all these different things have to work seamlessly together to make a product that’s really magical.”
The Apple Watch method
How it’s making fashion tech work: Love it or hate it, the design of the Apple Watch is as bold as wrist-based wearables get, in that it doesn’t mimic a traditional watch entirely but it also doesn’t look hideous.
The Apple Watch is in a pretty unique position, too. It has – in Cupertino style – kept the design and build of the smartwatch itself in house but, with third party straps, is allowing the likes of Hermes to collaborate with Italian leather straps. Being Apple, there is no shortage of straps. Then there’s the new woven nylon bands signalling that Apple is beginning to act like a fashion company that launches collections of accessories seasonally – like Fossil, like Ringly.
What to look for in 2016 and beyond: More Apple Watch straps and high profile designer collaborations and maybe even an Apple Watch 2 when the time is right for new hardware.