Clunky smartwatches, futuristic jewellery and Twitter dresses: can wearable technology ever make the leap from geek to mainstream? The Drum’s Natalie Mortimer recently went along to an event organised by Lady Geek to test out some of the newest products.
The main barrier to wearable technology becoming mainstream is that not many people want to wear it. Take Google Glass for instance; the face-mounted computer that pretty much launched wearable devices into the limelight is not something for the shy and retiring. Working through a combination of facial movements and talking out loud, Google Glass has the potential to make people cross the street when they pass you, or in the case of one San Francisco based wearer, even have people attack you instead. So it was with a little bit of trepidation and a whole lot of intrigue that I went to a panel event organised by tech consultancy Lady Geek at London’s Soho House, to take a look at the future of wearable tech. The first thing I spotted was a sparkly dress flashing a variety of different colours, sitting next to a pair of shoes with LED lights sprouting from the toes: I was definitely in the right place.
The immediate thought that popped into my head as I surveyed the items laid out in front of me was that the aesthetics of many of them, which included CuteCircuit’s ready to wear fashion line and the Fitbit bracelet, seemed a little lacking. While the features of the Fitbit are useful – it allows you to track your steps, calories you’ve burned and sleeping patterns – the look of it on my wrist was less appealing. Made from rubber and sizeably thick, I couldn’t imagine wearing it with most of my wardrobe. I felt similarly about the Sony SmartWatch 2, which runs off Android and is basically an extension of your smartphone. The watch can be used as a remote for your phone to make or receive calls via Bluetooth and it also displays texts and app notifications. Essentially the watch serves as a middle man between you and your phone. How handy this really is given that many people are close to their phones at all times is difficult to say – it really depends how reliant you are on receiving notifications. Design-wise, the watch is extremely chunky and feels quite heavy on your wrist. It also has a masculine look so I doubt that it would appeal to many women.
One device that I really liked was the Mighty Purse. Designed specifically for women, it features a hidden built-in battery that can recharge most smartphones. You just need to plug in a micro-USB cord that sits in a zipped pocket into your phone, although you do have to buy an adapter separately. The biggest difference between the Mighty Purse and the other items is that it looked like something you would pick up in a high street store rather than an electrical shop – a pivotal point that manufacturers need to consider if wearable technology is to ever fully go mainstream.Another of the issues aside from the look of the devices is that the majority are not standalone products: that is they operate off either a tablet or smartphone, whether that’s in terms of downloading data from the Fitbit or in the case of the CuteCircuit dress, changing the pattern.So can wearable technology ever go mainstream? In my opinion yes, but it has a long way to go before it reaches that point. Until technology and fashion companies can strike a balance between fashion and functionality, creating something that has a real impact on our daily lives that also looks appealing, wearable tech will struggle to move forward.