Invisibility is key to wearables' success

  • AFP
  • Updated: Feb 25, 2015 17:23 IST

When smart devices stop looking like techy gadgets and more like fashion and lifestyle accessories they will finally go mainstream.

According to the latest Juniper Research whitepaper "The World in 2020 A Technology Vision," the way that the current generation of wearable tech devices have been designed is a huge obstacle to generating excitement outside the tech community but, if companies can turn up the style, the market for wearable technology could be worth $80 billion by the end of the decade.

Google discovered this the hard way. After the initial fanfare surrounding Google Glass, the company in January wound down the developer program and took the smart glasses off the market, saying that the device was to be reassessed and redeveloped but some, including Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, were not convinced. "We always thought that glasses were not a smart move, from a point of view that people would not really want to wear them. They were intrusive, instead of pushing technology to the background, as we've always believed," he said, according to the New Yorker earlier this month.

In order to make Google Glass more appealing, the company had partnered with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and joined forces with Luxottica, with a view to integrating Google Glass features into premium sunglasses.

But it doesn't mean the smartglasses market is dead. Juniper Research forecasts that up to 10 million headsets will ship annually over the next three years but that demand will be driven almost entirely by businesses with a clear use case.

Because they more closely represent ‘normal' worn devices, smartwatches and smart bands have already started to gain more traction. However, here too Juniper believes too many companies are focused on functionality first and form second. "Fashion-first wearables, that are less obviously gadgets will have a much greater appeal than tech-centric devices, as they will blend in with consumers' lives more effectively," write the whitepaper's authors.

Intel understands that elegance is key: for its first wearable, the MICA, a smart notifications band, it partnered with Opening Ceremony to create a piece of women's jewelry that connects wirelessly to a smartphone.

Trellie is another company focused on connected style and its new Bluetooth wearable platform, revealed in January, was created to be small enough to fit inside a gem setting on a ring or a necklace.

Even Apple's head of design, Jony Ive has talked at length about the challenges of designing something that blends style with high-tech performance. Of designing the new Apple Watch which comes in three different styles, he told the Daily Telegraph: "One of the biggest challenges that we've found is that we wouldn't all be sitting here wearing the same thing. It's ok if we can put it in a bag, it's ok if we can put it into a jacket, but this idea that I think we want to wear the same thing is why we've designed a system not a single approach."

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