Wearable technology seems to be one of the biggest emerging technology sectors in the tech market these days. Companies such as Apple, Google, Samsung and Amazon have already entered the market, and it has spurred a plethora of startups and design companies to enter the fray as well. But, is wearable tech really the near-future that everyone is saying? Or is it just a fad whose popularity is just leading to another tech bubble, in a tech market that’s already with bubbles primed to pop?
In looking at the term “wearable tech”, the term itself is really a misnomer. There’s obviously plenty of technology out there, but if you think about it, no real dedicated fashion follower would be caught dead wearing half of the gadgets that have been created; Google Glass is a prime example in a world where eyewear has become a very important type of fashion. Sonny Vu, the CEO of Misfit Wearables, summed it up quite eloquently when he said: “To be really wearable, an object needs to either be beautiful or invisible.”
Technology as fashion is hardly a new concept; just look at the iPhone. The iPhone might not be the best smartphone on the market at present, but it’s definitely the best looking and the most aesthetically pleasing, and that’s why consumers have lapped it up in droves (as a part of Apple’s most recent earnings report released last week, they estimated roughly $44 million in iPhone sales in the first quarter of this year alone – and that’s not even after a new generation release). Furthermore, it’s estimated that as of mid-April, Apple had sold it’s 500 millionth iPhone to date. The device itself has transcended technology and has become an essential fashion accessory, made customized by any combination of case and decoration that can be conceived by the human brain. At this point, the iPhone has become a status symbol and a signifier of good taste.
Of course, not everybody necessarily agrees with the previous assessment, and there are plenty who believe that the 500 million iPhones sold have been sold to 500 million people that are fashionably backward. What few would argue with, however, is that many of the most hyped-up wearables launched or scheduled to launch this year are, for the most part, ugly.
The Pebble and Galaxy Gear do show some promise, but they seem unrefined. Oculus Rift, the highly touted virtual reality technology now in the dubious hands of Facebook, makes the wearer look as if he’s being sucked face-first into a vacuum cleaner. As for Google Glass, not even Cara Delevingne or David Gandy could pull on a pair of those specs without feeling self-conscious.
Google isn’t stupid – they know that Glass needs a tremendous makeover in order to become a more pleasing piece of wearable tech, which is why the internet giant has teamed up with Luxottica, the Italian company that makes Ray-Ban, to make their new eyewear into something altogether more stylish. This is where things could get interesting, as the fashion design and technology sectors begin to merge. Apple has already brought on people formerly of the design world, hiring Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, in a senior vice-president role.
Aside from aesthetics, as it stands, the devices that are being marketed to consumers as wearable tech are not far off function-wise from what people already use on a day-to-day basis. The smartwatches that have already been released don’t show much in the way of promise in improving our lives the way the smartphone has. As a matter of fact, you can’t really use them without a smartphone in the first place. They just don’t feel necessarily vital.
This is where Apple could find some success. From a marketing standpoint, Apple is marvelously efficient at not emphasizing the product specifications in its ads promoting their products, but focuses far more on the experiences you will have with the device itself. This is what wearable tech manufacturers must look to emulate. They must make their devices the objects of desire by prizing design as highly as they prize technology.