New wearable technology will soon have the capacity to become skin-deep, but society might not be ready to adopt it just yet.
If your socks told your feet how to run faster, would you wear them? If a camera embedded in your scarf filmed your daily interactions, would you wear it? Do you use even half the functions your smartwatch offers?
“People will wear clothing and accessories that reflect their individual style, and if the embedded technology delivers a tangible benefit, they will embrace it,” said Sandra Lopez, director of strategic alliances for Intel’s New Devices Group.
People certainly embrace wearable technology when it’s meaningful or beneficial to them. But while technological developments in wearables continue to grow at an exponential rate, there’s been some question as to how ‘smart’ our tech really needs to be.
We are at a tipping point in technology, where growth of the wearables industry is surpassing cultural acceptance and adoption, said Scott Amyx, founder and CEO of Amyx+McKinsey, a wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) strategy and development agency.
“Technology is one thing, but the adoption curve is [proving to] be very incremental,” said Amyx.
While adoption may be slow, statistics show the wearables market is booming.
Sales of wearables jumped from more than 50 million devices sold in 2013 to 90 million in 2014. More than 165 million units are projected to ship this year, according to a study by ABI.
Yes, wearables are selling, but unlike smart phones, people don’t depend on them.
That might be changing. Technology’s rapid advances in wearable hardware and materials are creating new opportunities for the industry.
The question is not whether wearable technology will advance, but rather how the application of technology will be applied.
“Through really small, extremely powerful systems on the chip, Intel has added a lot of horsepower to what is actually possible by embedding technology into every mundane object,” said Colin Gilbert, director of research at L2, a company that studies and analyzes digital growth.
Embedding light, energy-efficient chips goes beyond the clothing industry. “Anything you look at around you can possibly be made into a potential platform,” Gilbert said.
As the landscape of technology grows, so do the opportunities. Billie Whitehouse, designer and co-founder at Wearable Experiments, envisions technology that looks beyond the current state of data quantification and crosses over into real-time body messaging.
She gives the example of wearable sensors converting data into a message such as: “Your left ankle has been cocked for too long, and you are going to be injured if you leave it that way for the rest of the day.” She said exploring that real-time feedback is exciting for a designer.
“The future of wearable technology is all about being seamless; all about platforms,” said Sabine Seymour, founder and CEO of Moondial, a think tank for integrated fashion. Her lab’s product, Softspot, is a sensor-laden fabric patch that is invisible and wirelessly connected.
The practical application of this type of technology allows clothes to communicate with their wearer. Amyx gives the example of a smart fitness outfit where properly placed sensors built into the fabric can help athletes avoid potential injuries.
The smart fitness clothing company Athos offers shirts, capris and shorts with sensors measuring everything from muscle activity to respiration. OMSignal’s “biometric smartware” in its form-fitting nylon shirts can track heart rate, number of steps and calories burned.
Amyx sees these advancements as just the beginning of what wearable technology will be able to do. Fifty years from now, he predicts visual augmented reality technology will have a major impact on self-identity and personal expression.
Amyx pointed to existing virtual reality technology such as Oculus Rift and HoloLens. This technology will inevitably become more compact and evolve, from smart contact lenses to implanted lenses that achieve the same results as Lasik surgery, he said.
The vision-impaired may not need to wait long for the technology. Google is currently experimenting with smart contact lenses.
As research and development of this advanced technology emerges, society’s adoption will determine its success.
A study from the global market research firm TNS confirms that while 75 percent of people surveyed were aware of wearables, only 2 percent actually owned one.
This dissonance creates an untapped opportunity in the market for attracting the “fashion-conscious but also tech-enabled,” said L2’s Gilbert, who is interested in seeing how the market’s current wearable options will impact the trend going forward.
“At the end of the day, this is going to happen a lot slower than people anticipated.”
Photo Credits (from top to bottom): Wearable Experiments; MeTaMiND EvoLuTioN MeTaVoLuTioN, Creative Commons, 2.0; NYC Media Lab, Mobile Futures, Creative Commons, 2.0; Mediamatic Hybrid Wearables by jeanbaptisteparis, Creative Commons 2.0; Amyx McKinsey Pinterest page.