Wearable technology must be fashionable, more closely integrated into clothing and heavily personalised but also focus on data security to become mainstream, experts have warned.
Speaking at the world’s largest dedicated event to wearable technology, the Wearable Technology Show 2015 in London – the day after Apple unveiled its smart watch – designers of the latest gadgets have highlighted the need for tech companies to focus on integrating sensors into garments and prioritising the design elements of their products to ensure commerciality on a large scale.
Francesca Rosella, director of Cute Circuit which designed a Twitter dress for singer Nicole Scherzinger as well as LED dresses for singer Katy Perry, said: “We should really be moving away from the idea that we have a piece of technology to strap onto the body, the future is that it’s integrated into a garment. You can forget your phone or watch when you go out of the house, but you are not going to go out of the house without clothing on.
“Sometimes we are in danger of calling it wearable technology but it’s fashion, just in a smarter material.”
She added that “unless a product looks good people won’t want to wear it, even if it has good functionality”, but the fashion industry is now getting on-board with the rapidly growing wearable technology industry.
“The fashion industry has become more used to seeing these things happening and it’s changing the mindset of people,” she said. “There’s a change that’s coming in the fashion world but it’s still very slow. People are more and more in tune to hearing about it now.”
Jorgen Nordin, head of international product at Jawbone, added that the smart wristband brand has always focused on the fashion element to ensure commerciality: “We have always been about fashion from the start. If you want it to be personal and something they have with them all of the time it has to have an aesthetic that matches your own aesthetic and that’s why design is absolutely critical. We wanted to design something with high level technology but with a design that you would want to wear it even if it wasn’t doing anything.”
Mikko Malmivaara, sales and marketing manager at wearable tech firm Clothing Plus, which has designed a sports bra with lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret that monitors heart rate, added that the smart element of the technology only comes when the product is fully connected and able to react to the data it receives: “Even though our sports bra with Victoria’s Secret is smartly made, I don’t think this is smart, this is just touching on what’s smart. Smart isn’t that it’s monitoring your body, but smart is when it monitors, records and reacts to that data in a set way. So for example, an air-conditioned garment that warms up when you’re cold and cools down when you’re hot.”
Nadia Kang, chief marketing officer of Taiwanese smart garment firm AIQ Clothing, said: “Smart is based on being the most user friendly, being simple and not complicated.”
But she warned that retail buyers need to get up to speed with wearable technology: “There’s a gap that most buyers don’t know how to handle smart technology. Managing for buying it is different. You need to have the device and app and the total solution, not just the clothing itself. You might need a new division to handle it.”
Cute Circuit’s Rosella added she had found some fashion manufacturers “very conservative” and are still reticent about trying new things. “We need to change the vision of the fashion industry,” she said.
Marco Della Torre, vice president at Intel, called on technology companies to work together with fashion companies to enable products to collaborate and ultimately become more useful for customers.
He said: “We need to get products to talk together more effectively, so they achieve more than the sum of their parts…The worlds of fashion design and technology are now collaborating. This is a new collaboration of industries that have never worked this closely together before.”
He added the four priorities for wearables are being personalised to the wearer, able to deliver immediate data to help people lead their lives, and be able to keep a constant record whilst working towards collaborating with other wider technology products.
But he highlighted continuing hurdles to overcome, such as washing wearable technology garments and providing power for long enough, whilst not making the item too bulky.
“Wearable technology is most exciting when doing something your smartphone can’t do – like taking your heart rate – that highlights the value of wearable technology, it provides data you can’t get anywhere else.”
Steve Wainwright, vice president and general manager for sales and marketing at sensor designer Freescale, highlighted that security is the biggest concern for the wearable technology industry now. “There’s the potential for 50 billion devices, that’s a huge amount of connected stuff. If you don’t get security element in place we can kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It’s the real challenge for us.
“The biggest issue is security – it’s absolutely mandatory. Innovation is at the fore but security isn’t what people tend to want to focus on. They are collecting masses of data but someone somewhere will want to do something nasty with that data, so we really have to find a way to close that gap.”
This he said was particularly important as according to technology research firm Gartner, by 2017 50% of new wearable technology solutions are expected to have originated from start ups that are less than three years old, where security is not necessarily a key priority.
He added to revolutionise the future capability of wearables, the products must focus on vision processing, image recognition and gesture recognition.