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InsideFMM | October 24, 2014

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TECH TREND: Will Wearable Computers Replace Smartphones?

Tech experts predict that wearable computers are the next big trend for mobile devices. What is the fashion industry going to do about it?

wearable computers fashionYes, your smartphone is cool, but it’s about to be replaced with something cooler. Tech companies are scrambling to come up with the next amazing mobile device, and the word on the street is that it’s going to be wearable.

Frankly, the editors of FMM are surprised that we haven’t heard any buzz about top fashion houses and artisan accessory manufacturers collaborating with these tech companies to create devices that are not only functionally astounding but also physically beautiful. There’s still time of course, but we like to be early adopters and look really good, and some of these devices… you’ll see. The capabilities are astounding but the design is most appropriate for an event like E3 or CES or Comic Con, if you know what I’m saying.

In addition to the powerful computing devices soon to hit the mass market, there are also new wearable computers that serve a purely aesthetic function, making clothing more dynamic and opening up the future of fashion to a wide range of Liquid Sky-inspired design.

1. Google Glass

Future-focused tech lovers have been buzzing about wearable computers for years, but Google’s recent video that unveiled the potential of its Google Glass project made these predictions seem like a tangible reality. On April 4, Google’s not-so-secret research lab Google X sparked the imagination of consumers around the world with this video about the possibilities of its Google Glass research initiative. If you’re not one of the 15 million people who’s already watched the video, here it is.

Note that the title of the video is “Project Glass: One day…” and not “Look at this cool new device we are selling.” The fact is, some of the technology depicted in the video exists, and some does not. Rumors started flying that Google Glasses would be available for purchase by the end of the year, but Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who demonstrated one of the “rough prototypes” in a recent appearance on the Gavin Newsom Show, said that he hopes to get the product out next year, but there is no guarantee.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, project lead Steve Lee breaks down which parts of the technology exist and which do not, as well as his personal experiences beta-testing the product.

2. Sixth Sense Technology

In 2009, Patti Maes, associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab, gave a Ted Talk introducing what her team called “Sixth Sense Technology.” A combination of augmented reality, gesture interface and micro-projection, the groundbreaking interface allows users to view information from the internet projected onto real-world objects in a seamless interface. (The device doesn’t really appear until two minutes into the talk, FYI. Stick around and watch the functionality, it’s worth it.)

Pranav Mistry, who appears as a graduate student in the video above, has continued to develop the Sixth Sense interface and expand its functionality. You can see him speak at TEDIndia about the expanded capabilities, as well as how he developed some of the devices used in the video.

In my opinion, this is totally next level. In fact, it’s quite possibly the technology that the Google Glass project is based on. The one difference is that instead of projecting information onto an object, the glasses project the information onto a tiny screen that only the user can see. I totally want a Sixth Sense device, but I also want it to look better. I’m hoping that our friends at MIT can team up with a talented designer (hint, hint) to come up with a wearable version of this device. A brooch perhaps?

wearable computers fashion

3. SmartWatch

Sony’s SmartWatch is pretty much what it sounds like: a scaled-down smartphone that you wear on your wrist. The device is Bluetooth enabled and syncs with Android Smartphones, allowing users to check email and access music stores on the device. In addition, Sony offers a wide selection of colored plastic watchbands for the device, making it a fun fashion accessory. Product reviews on the site, however, bemoan the quality of the wristbands and say that it doesn’t feel very sturdy. It’s a great idea, but Sony might need to partner with an accessories designer (hint, hint) to get the quality they need to captivate their target market.

wearable computers fashion

4. WIMM One

Google’s open Android platform has inspired more companies to design wearable mobile solutions that Apple’s tightly controlled iOS. Similar to Sony’s SmartWatch, WIMM One is a fully-functional Android computer with WiFi capability that features a host of native apps. In addition, the WIMM One is preloaded with a selection of watch faces and micro apps. The company actively seeks developers to create functionality for the platform, and open source development is at the foundation of the technology company’s philosophy.

5. Flora

Unlike the devices described above, Adafruit Industries’ Flora is a wearable computer that has the potential to do some real computing, or just be a source of fun. The device itself is just 1.75 inches in diameter, and can be sewn into clothing or accessories. It has a USB port that can connect to a Windows, Mac or Linux PC. In addition, it features apps for iOS and Android so that users can control it from a mobile phone.

wearable computers fashionThe device can be programmed to do anything, but developer Limor Fried hopes that the fashion industry finds applications for the device that are simply fashionable.

“We could include these wearable computers as part of fashion,” Fried told Wired‘s Gadget Lab. “Handbags could have text or video on them. Imagine a bag—this is a kind of joke about the Canal Street knockoffs here in New York—that could show a fake Louis Vuitton logo, then switch, and it’s a Chanel logo. Or, if you’re trying to get around a city, instead of looking up a map on a tiny smartphone screen, you could put it on your bag, or your sleeve.” (Editor’s note: FMM in no way endorses counterfeit products, but we chose to include this quote to illustrate the possibilities the computer could achieve.)

6. LED Fashion
Some wearable computers are not there to provide the user with information; they function simply to enhance a person’s appearance. Artist and researcher Lulin Ding has developed a device that illuminates a person’s eyelid with LED light powered by the Lilypad Arduino device, similar to the Flora in form and function. The LED eyeshadow light is suspended over the eye with wires that are woven into the eyelashes, then drop over the ear and down the shoulder to connect with the Lilypad computer.

wearable computers fashion

London-based CuteCurcuit features LED garments are designed by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, including a ball gown with 24,000 LED lights that is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Designer Soomi Park (pictured on the left) has even produced LED eyelashes that feature a tilt sensor.

When will wearable computers become stylish?

Last month, The New York Times reported that “wearable computers are the next big thing,” according to a report by Forrester Research. We think that the idea is fantastic and we love new technology, but we think that the important question is: when will wearable computers become fashionable? Google Glass’ Steve Lee seems open to outsourcing the manufacture of glasses to companies like Gucci and Prada, according to Fast Company. Smart man. Widespread adoption of these technologies will absolutely depend on how they look in the context of fashion, and the technology industry ultimately needs the fashion industry’s influence if they want wearable technologies to become commonplace.

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