As I sit and type, a large billboard for Apple Watches spans the corner across from my office window. The vibrant iWatch screens loom over me, reminding me that even if I’m not ready to talk to my accessories like my personal assistant, the rest of the world is.
Including my boyfriend. He has a Moto360, Android’s answer to the iWatch and he likes to show it off to waiters by asking it to “Show me (him) a picture of the restaurant in which we are dining.” It impresses or at very least amuses. But aside from a great party trick, what is so wonderful about the ever growing world of wearable technology?
The fantasy of wearable technology first entered society’s collective imaginations circa 1946 with Dick Tracy’s iconic wristwatch 2-way radio (see below). Dick’s watch then upgraded to a 2-way TV in 1964 – the same year that the 35mm radio connector was invented and headphones became portable, marking the first wearable product for the mainstream consumer. Calculator watches popped up in the 80’s and the early millennial years gave us novelty items like Bluetooth mic’d earrings and neckties equipped with small cameras, but only now is the wearable industry seeing significant developments. Enter the activity tracker.
Illustration: Chester Gould
Outside of headphones, technologies that monitor and track are currently the most widely adopted form of wearable technology. Activity trackers that come in the form of pendants, bracelets, and athletic shoes track not only basic body metrics such as heart rate and temperature but also provides actionable feedback that can help users optimize their workouts, stay on task, monitor their diet or simply get more sleep.
Now that Fitbit and Jawbone have become household names, the wearable industry is (finally) shifting its focus to form, and not simply function. Smart Jewelry company Cuff is quickly developing solutions for the style-conscious with their chic black and gold pieces that mask activity trackers. However, it is London-based company Cute-Circuit that is leading the tech-couture charge, known best for designing Nicole Scherzinger’s notorious 2014 “Twitter Dress” that received real-time tweets using the hashtag #tweetthedress. They are also the creators of Katy Perry’s many red-carpet LED gowns, the “HugShirt,” which enables remote hugging, and “The Mirror Purse,” which displays tweets, messages, and decorative animations via a Bluetooth connection to the users phone.
Next on the consumer horizon for wearables: The Virtual Reality Headset. Oculus Rift developed by Oculus VR, debuted on March 28th, 2016 and promises to provide experiences that make the user “feel like they are right there.” Facebook snapped up Oculus VR for a cool $2 billion. Mark Zuckerberg is a big proponent of VR and said that “immersive, virtual, and augmented reality will become a part of people’s everyday lives.” A growing number of entertainment providers support Oculus Rift. Most recently Hulu, who offers 30 unique VR experiences for Rift users. Oculus Touch is also available, adding the sense of motion and touch to the VR experience.
Outside of consumerism, wearables are driving innovation in safety and strategy for our nation’s military. On August 28th, 2015 President Obama, an avid Fitbit wearer, announced that the Department of Defense would invest $75 million in a “flexible hybrid electronics” innovation center in Silicon Valley called the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics.
Over the past 20 years, Wearable Technology has made astonishing advances, leaping off the pages of comics books into everyday life. While we all may not have a Smart Watch or LED gown tomorrow, our society’s consistent trend toward ease-of-use, convenience, and flexibility will make us all adopters of wearable technology eventually. Or at least until Google Glass finally comes out of Beta.