Listen to this article now
An in-depth look into the concept of wearable technology; past, present and future.
We are often defined as tool-using animals; while correct to some extent – some animals use tools too – the humans differentiate from the other creatures thanks to their technological ability.
The capacity of conceiving, manufacturing, and using tools and constant desire to improve our capabilities is what makes us so special.
The word ‘technology’ is a combination of two Greek words.
‘Techne’ which means craft or art, and ‘logos’ which translates into ‘speech’.
Thus, technology can be defined as a ‘discourse on arts, both fine and applied.’
The wearable part of technology refers to small, portable sensors, nowadays used in fitness trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses, smart tattoos, and even fashion.
Wearable Technology – The First Recorded Eye Glasses
Long before the Google Glass and the ‘glasshole’ individual, there was the eyeglass.
One of the first wearable devices, the eyeglass was designed to enhance a person’s perception of the world and provide the wearer with clearer, enhanced vision.
The fascinating history of wearable tech begins over 700 years ago with Roger Bacon and the comments, on the first-ever use of corrective lenses, he made in his Opus Majus, c. 1266.
However, before the invention of the convex spectacles, the short-sighted had to find more ingenious ways to see.
Nero, the 5th Emperor of the Roman Empire, used polished emeralds to watch and see better his gladiators fights and later, in the Viking Age, the “lenses” were carved out of rock crystals.
Wearable Technology – Oldest Smart Ring
Let’s travel to China for our next stop on the history of wearable technology journey.
Given the recent media coverage, you might be tempted to think that Apple has invented the smart ring.
However, tech-infused creations that we can wear around our fingers are quite old.
Made in the Qing Dynasty era (1644-1911), this 1.2 cm long and 0.7 cm wide ring is a functional abacus that you can wear on the finger.
Now you know why they call it “the abacus ring.”
Wearable Technology – First Wearable Timepiece
Let’s take a quick trip to Germany, on our “history of wearable technology journey” to admire the Pomander (Bisamapfeluhr) watch.
Made in 1505 by Peter Henlein, a clockmaker in Nuremberg, “Pomander” is confirmed as the oldest known watch to date.
Not to confuse with ‘Nürnberger Ei’, thought to be Henlein’s first watch.
A far cry from today’s slim and precise watches, the Pomander was large and inaccurate.
However, rather than being just functional timepieces, these watches were status symbols. Expensive to make and, of course, to purchase.
Now, back to the ‘status symbol’ the Apple Watch launched half a millennium later in what it seems an inevitable historical recurrence.
As history repeats itself, why should the history of wearable technology make an exception?
Wearable Technology – First Wearables In Fashion
If you are interested in fashion technology, I am sure you are familiar with Cute Circuit, a London-based wearable tech pioneer, since 2001.
Founded by Ryan Genz and Francesca Rosella, the company uses “smart” fabrics to give the fashion as we know it a new form, a new modern image.
However, before Cute Circuit there was a world of fashion tech apparel:
“The introduction of illuminated ballet girls has added to the attractions of the grand stage. Girls with electric lights on the foreheads and batteries concealed in the recesses of their clothing.” 8 November 1884. Grey River Argus. Volume XXXI. Issue 5032. Page 1.
Thanks to the ‘Electric Girls’, wearables and the fashion tech touched New York’s fashion stages a long time ago.
Wearable Technology – First Wearable Camera
Let’s now check out a multi-million company, conceived in the back of a VW van dubbed “The Biscuit.” The company I am talking about is now called GoPro, with a valuation of 3.86 billion U.S. dollars last year.
So, before we had extreme sports athletes, police officers and even drones fitted with GoPro cameras, we have tried the wearable cameras on birds. I am serious. Pigeon photography was a technique invented in 1907 by a German apothecary, Julius Neubronner.
The pigeon was fitted with an aluminium breast harness and a very light, time-delayed miniature camera. This simple invention let the German army capture game-changing aerial photographs, behind the enemy lines.
Wearable Technology – First Virtual Reality ‘Headset’
Past world war two, the history of wearable technology touches down the year of 1960. We find Morton Heilig, a cinematographer that has just created a new way of enjoying movies through what he calls the “immersive arcade experience.”
It is the first recorded attempt at blending cinema with virtual reality. Morton called his invention the “Stereophonic Television Head-Mounted Display” and patented the invention.
Two years later, in 1962, he patented another invention. The “Sensorama Simulator” (US Patent #3.050.870). An upgraded virtual reality simulator, with handlebars, binocular display, vibrating seat, stereophonic speakers, cold air blower and a device close to the nose that would generate odours, all synchronised with the action in the film.
Now if this does not make you think of the 4DX technology, stop now! Go to the cinema, see “The Hunger Games” and only then come back for more of the history of wearable technology.
And, when your seat starts shaking, remember that Morton Heiling invented the same tech, half of a century ago. Minus the comfy cushions, but you get the idea.
Wearable Technology – First Wearable Computer
We are still in the sixties. You see, the sixties were not all about sex, drugs and rock and roll but also the years of technological excitement. The golden years of phreaking, the years of smart boxes, designed to hack the automated telephone systems.
However, two MIT professors Edward Thorp and Claude Shannon took the hacking to another level. They’ve designed and constructed the world’s first wearable computer.
Thorp’s and Shannon’s invention consists of two parts. One part hides in a shoe, and another part inside of a cigarette pack. The data-taker indicates the speed of the roulette wheel, and the computer sends the data to a hearing aid.
A simple but efficient system that let the mathematicians predict the outcome of many roulette games, in times when the computers were the size of rooms.
The wearable computer was invented in 1961, but it was mentioned for the first time only in 1966, in the revised edition of the “Beat the Dealer” book by Edward Thorp. Later on, Thorp disclosed in the LIFE Magazine, the 27th of March 1964 edition, pp. 80-91, another wearable computer.
A model for winning at the “Wheel of Fortune” gambling game. What can I say? Old habits die hard.
Wearable Technology – First Wristwatch Computer
The first “wristwatch calculator” was introduced by Pulsar in 1975, just before Xmas time. The first “Limited Edition” of 100 pieces was available in 18KT solid gold for 3950$. Nevertheless, just like the gold Apple Watch, it was a huge success.
A few months later, a more affordable – stainless steel – version was offered for just 550$. “The Calculator” was promoted as the watch “For the man who had everything until now.”
Fact: The president of the U.S.A at the time, Gerald Ford very much wanted one for the Xmas of 1975. If you wonder if he got one, the answer is recorded in the history of wearable technology as such: “the president’s wife had the last word.” Amen.
Wearable Technology – First Portable Music Player
Personal portable music did not exist for most of human history, at least not in mainstream “fashion”. Not until the Sony Walkman came along.
Sony Walkman, or, the first-ever portable cassette tape player from Sony.
Also named “the icon”, the device went on sale on the 1st of July 1979 for $150.
It is the portable music player that “rocked” the music industry and changed how people experienced music ever since. Ummm….did I hear you say iPod?
Wearable Technology – First Wearable Computer
While still in the high-school, Steve Mann wired a 6502 computer (the hardware components used in the Apple-II) into a steel-frame backpack that allowed him to control flashbulbs, cameras, and photo-related gadgets on the move.
As a display he used a camera viewfinder CRT attached to a helmet, giving 40 column text. The whole “backpack” computer, including the flash-lamps, was powered by lead-acid batteries. Brave pioneers.
Although most people acknowledge Steve Mann as the father of Wearable Computing, he was far beyond “wearables” more than twenty years ago.
Mann’s inventions delve possible forms of co-evolution and even human-machine symbiosis. Thus seeing Steve Mann as merely an inventor of “wearables” is not accurate.
Wearable Technology In Fashion
The ’80s and the ’90s are the times of the so-called “commercial pioneering” in wearable computing. In fact, the first wearable devices with mass-market impact arrived in the late ’70s. One of the first wearables with real commercial success was the calculator watch, launched by Hewlett-Packard in 1977.
Named the HP-01, the watch was sold at a top price of $850. That is the equivalent of 3.500 U.S. dollars in 2015. Apart from the calculator functions, the HP-01 was able, just like any modern smartwatches, to store names, addresses, phone numbers and even appointments.
Speaking about smartwatches, the history of wearable technology cannot ignore the Japanese company Casio and its “fashion statement,” at that time, the “Databank” watch.
It was so influential that the Police lead singer Sting wore one in the making of the song “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and Michael J. Fox showcased his watch too, in the movie “Back to the Future.”
Wearable Technology In The ’90s
So step by step, we have reached the nineties with our history of wearable technology. The ’90s are the times when we got busy with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and watching Bill Clinton “reinventing” sex.
Busy with Budweiser’s “Waaaasuup” advert and busy watching Friends and Seinfeld TV series. Still, we had time for the “sneaker phone”. Sports Illustrated came up with the sneaker phone as a free promo in the early ’90s. A shoe and a corded phone all-in-one. We had real, good fun.
Wearable Technology – First Contactless Payment Smart Bracelet
The mBracelet. Developed in 1999 by Studio 5050 in New York was “innovation on the wrist.”
Nowadays, most smartwatches come with coloured, personalised bracelets and also include a form of contactless payment.
And, this is what the mBracelet also had, but seventeen years ago: The bracelet came in eight bright colours and the ability to compute financial transactions with ATMs.
With regret, the mBracelet remained just at the prototyping stage. Seen as a far too futuristic idea at that time the project was let to vanish into obsolescence, and it died before it made it to the market. Just like many other amazing ideas, the mBracelet was ahead of its time.
Wearable Technology – Marketing Attempts At Wearable Tech
“Philips technology in every shirt and skirt” reads a late 90’s advert on the company’s Wearable Electronics Centre. It is the year when together with Levi’s, Philips launched the world’s first fashion tech garment. The ICD+ jacket.
Worth mentioning here is that the project was lead by a fashion designer obsessed with functionality over style and a high interest in developing innovative fabrics.
A designer like no other, he invented the R=rubber-wool and the temperature-sensitive material, SI-product used on another amazing fashion creation, the “Ice Jacket.”
His name is Massimo Osti; the Italian genius designer that changed the clothing and the fashion world forever.
Wearable Technology – First Commercial Wearables
Google Glass. A pair of smart glasses also called a head-mounted Android smartphone. On paper, Google Glass project was groundbreaking. In reality…Let’s just say that the trial release of the Glass did not go quite as expected.
There were major privacy concerns, endless headache complaints, and even reports of potential addiction caused by the use of the glasses for prolonged periods of time. Don’t know how, as the battery on mine never lasted more than 45 minutes on a single charge.
Not long before the Glass, in 2008, Fitbit, a wearable tech startup, launched its Fitbit Classic wristband. A fitness tracker that allowed the wearer to monitor the taken steps, the travelled distance, the kilocalories consumed, intensity levels, and sleep patterns.
It was the start of a new era, the use of wearable tech in fitness, healthcare, and even fashion thanks to the new generations of smartwatches, smart jewellery, and luxurious fitness trackers.
Wearable Technology – Fashion Brands And Wearable Tech
The fashion world started to show increasing interest in wearable tech and, in 2014, with the assistance of a solar manufacturer called Pvilion, Hilfiger launched a pair of “Solar Powered” jackets, for men and women.
The “Solar Powered” jacket has an array of water-resistant, flexible solar panels that snap on and off, to collect solar power for charging your gadgets. A cable runs to a battery pack located in one of the front pockets and a steel-frame backpack, which in turn has a dual USB port so that you can charge two devices at once.
The wearable technology has evolved. It has become lighter, smaller, smarter, more flexible, waterproof, and intelligent. We’ve come a long way from the Pomander watch and the abacus ring.
Wearable Technology – What Is The Future?
Wearable technology has a fascinating past. No matter how much we calculate or condition ourselves to foresee what comes ahead of us, we can never predict the future. The future is an unexpected wave crashing upon us, with its endless possibilities and surprises.
However, I see embedded sensors, implantable, and smart fabrics. I see new landscape and markets developed around smart sensors such as digital health, fashion technology, augmented reality.
I see the world “bathing” in an ocean of big data running on the blockchain. I see AI interacting with smart objects, autonomous cars, connected cities, embedded and implanted sensors. I see the beginning of a “digital persona.” I see a better you, a better me, a better world. Connected, synchronised, and safe.
What’s the role/future of wearable technology in fashion?
CCS Insight predicts a wearables market worth $34 Billion by 2020.
While invisible to the naked eye, there is a world of wearable technology around us, with multiple applications in retail, automobile, medical, and insurance sectors.
And yet, the vast potential the fashion industry has for wearable technology remains untapped, with most experts agreeing that the problem lies in the lack of consumer involvements, according to the poor understanding.
Experts propose different strategies on how to make consumers interested in fashion tech garments.
For example, some argue that for the fashion technology segment to take off, customers must show the willingness to keep wearing wearable technology apparel, until it becomes an integral part of their lives.
Others insist that for consumers to wear fashion tech products, the design is critical, while there is this idea that only by creating a sustainable story behind such innovative garments brands can create mass market adoption.
Wearable Technology – Make Them Desire
Some key findings from the Accenture Digital Consumer Survey, which looked at consumers’ receptivity to wearable technology in six countries, show that 52 per cent are interested in fitness wearables while 46 per cent are interested in smart glasses.
A similar survey from Forrester shows that 25 per cent of fashion consumers are fine with smart sensors clipped to their clothes while 15 per cent like embedded technology into their garments.
Moreover, 3 per cent would even have fashionable tattoos with smart sensors.
Truth being said, there’s no point in businesses developing innovative garments packed with wearable technology if nobody buys them.
For that, we argue that for the fashion consumer to engage in the consumption of fashion tech goods, long before these garments become a part of their daily lives, product aesthetic and style are paramount in incentivising them.
Moreover, while fashion tech garments must have appealing aesthetics, there is the need to imbue them with social values and a sense of doing good by consuming them, if we want fashion consumers to buy them.
A 2016 IDC market survey reinforced the sentiment, showing that consumers interested in wearable technology feel that fashion retailers should put a significant focus on product design and aesthetics rather than technical features.
In similar fashion, a Nielsen report from 2014 shows that 53 per cent of Americans expect wearable technology gadgets and accessories to look more like real jewellery.
And again, at this year’s Wearable Technology Show in London, the expert panellists were unequivocal about the need for aesthetics in wearable technology fashion segment, and the importance of designing fashion tech garments and accessories that look good.
Long before consumers pay attention to the technological construct and functional value of a wearable device, they should desire it first.
Wearable Technology – Make Them Feel
A growing body of experts argues that the intangible attributes of the product, such as design, branding, heritage, and the story behind the brand, are the subconscious drivers of fashion and luxury consumption.
To oversimplify, to them, fashion has always been about how it looks and how it makes the consumer feel.
However, according to the PWC 2018 Global Consumer Insights Survey, wearable technology infused apparel and accessories have become increasingly desirable among the general public.
As the case, why do we want wearable tech-infused garments?
Evidence shows that the apparel industry goes through a period of fast tech-driven transformations, with fashion brands working hard to capture the needs of the modern fashion consumer.
Wearable Technology Fashion – There’s Massive Potential
In a recent WTVOX study, we asked fashion buyers to tell us how they perceive wearable technology in its current form, and what can make wearable technology desirable in fashion apparel and accessories.
Respondents were allowed to choose as few or as many answers as they wanted, so the percentages won’t add up to 100 per cent but we feel this approach gives a more accurate overall picture of the specific spread of opinions:
16 per cent feel more fashionable when wearing at least one fashion tech item, in the form of modern fashion apparel (embedded in wearable technology).
15 per cent believe that any wearable technology can make them look more attractive.
24 per cent think that by showcasing wearable technology infused garments or accessories other people perceive as more intelligent and/or successful.
32 per cent believe that the format that most available wearable technology products have poor and unappealing designs.
What lessons can be drawn from these findings? There are several points worth highlighting here:
Wearable Technology Fashion – Consumers’ Needs First
First and foremost, wearable technology has to deliver more than just functionality. To become alluring and desirable, all garments and accessories augmented with wearable technology must be designed with the needs of the fashion consumers in mind.
Adopting for the strategy of luxury brands, fashion tech garments should be able to arouse and satisfy consumers’ need for status, to belong, to be different, and the need to do good, as in having an ethical input, helping animals and the environment.
Wearable technology has a simple role. To improve and augment, with functional value, the garments and accessories of the modern consumer.
Smartwatches, connected jewellery, innovative fashion garments, as these are the only parts visible to the wearer’s social circle.
If in the past, garments and accessories infused with wearable technology have been criticised for either being too bulky or unappealing.
As such, the contemporary generation of fashion tech clothes and smart accessories must put aesthetics and design at the core of their existence.
Wearable Technology Fashion – And The Reason Is…?
Second, as the market for fashion tech apparel and smart accessories is growing at an incredible pace, a new type of ‘tech-savvy/conscious consumer’ segment has started to emerge.
In a contemporary world driven by connectivity, social media, and tech-powered gadgets, some argue that the segment’s main driver toward the consumption of fashion tech apparel remains the need for status.
And yet, wearable technology found in modern fashion garments are no longer just smart sensors but have evolved into being part of a complex ecosystem comprising sustainable and innovative apparel, aiming for a cleaner industry and a healthier lifestyle.
Contemporary fashion tech garments are made from biomaterials such as leather from fungi and pineapple, textiles from algae, 3D printed rubber from recycled plastics, and lab-grown leather, all recorded on the blockchain.
As such the statement that a need for status is what drives consumers’ choice for wearable technology fashion, becomes something worth investigating further, in order to understand.
Nevertheless, if there is something to take from this article, it is that if your startup is creating wearable technology fashion, and wants to find the best way to target consumers, just try satisfying their need for status and you’ll do well.
Add a dash of ‘ethical mission’ to your communication messages, and you’ll be on the path to global recognition and success.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Remember the days when you turned up at someone’s house, out of the blue, just to arrange a future meet up?
Or the days of using a landline to confirm plans?
The days where you had to stand up to dim the light in the bedroom or reach the garage to set the heater timer..?
No..! Me neither..!
The emergence of smartphones has also kickstarted new generations of smart devices that took consumers into a world of surreal technology that somehow we become accustomed and almost cannot live without.
Through the following review, we invite you to explore some of the latest Groupon’s offers on wearable tech.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Oculus Go
Oculus Go is an excellent ‘all-in-one’ VR headset that delivers both, quality and comfort and doesn’t cost a fortune.
This smartphone-free headset is similar to the more expensive Oculus Rift – which does rely on a computer to work.
The value of Oculus Go VR headset lies in its lack of need for a smartphone.
The device has a 5.5-inch display and comes with two storage options of 32GB and 64GB respectively.
Oculus Go VR runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that’s found in many high-end smartphones.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Samsung Entrim 4D headphones
Staying in the realm of virtual reality, the Entrim 4D headphones from Samsung are designed to simulate movement to any VR headset by tricking your inner ear.
Electrical signals, similar to those used to help restore balance in stroke patients, are delivered via the headphone’s electrodes.
These electrodes ‘create’ movement data which allow users to feel as if they are a part of the on-screen action, by creating a deep sensation of direction and speed of movement.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – HoloSuit
Another device is HoloSuit. This full-body motion capture suit uses haptic feedback to let you feel the virtual world, with excellent usability in VR gaming and e-sports.
Moreover, HoloSuit allows users to train for specific medical and military purposes.
The device is designed to be compatible with VR, MR, AR, and RR, and features 360-degree motion tracking sensors, nine haptic feedback points, and six action buttons.
Players can control and view their avatar on an external screen, including the HoloSuit’s various components such as the jacket, pants, gloves, and jersey, which allows for full data capture of the wearer’s entire body movement.
Collected data is sent back to the user via haptic feedback which allows for body and brain training, in both virtual and real world.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Classi smartwatch strap
As the name suggests, the Classi smartwatch strap is a watch smart strap that gives your classic watch smart features.
This little device can track your daily activity, receive notifications through vibration, handsfree navigate you to your destination by connecting to your smartphone’s map, and even call out for help, when required, with the push of a button.
Moreover, Classi includes a phone loss prevention feature, and when activated the bracelet vibrates intensely when you’re leaving your smartphone behind.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Ejoy
Similar to Classi, Ejoy is a stylish wearable device designed with women in mind.
In fact, Ejoy is a collection of smart bracelets made in Italy, which include exclusive materials such as Murano glass and Carrara marble.
Beyond their beautiful design, the Ejoy bracelets can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and act as custom messages notifier.
As such, you’ll know who’s calling or texting, without the need of taking your smartphone out of the bag all the time.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Pomocup
Pomocup is a smart device designed for ski tourers.
This device is placed via a powerful magnet on the ski with the aim of measuring extensive touring data such as the time of the tour, altitude, speed, glide, grip, and even leg symmetry.
Collected data is transmitted in real-time straight to your smartphone and after your tour, your performance can be analysed in greater detail via the Skilog’s web interface.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Spartan Boxer Shorts
Here comes the apparel section of wearables. For example, Spartan underwear for men are not just stylish but also radiation-free.
These boxer briefs can protect your health and fertility from in-pocket smartphones, and close proximity WIFI radiation.
Conducted tests show that these radiations-blocking briefs can block up to 99% of nocive radiations, thanks to the embedded WaveStopper technology.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Bonbouton
Created with cutting-edge embedded sensor technology, Bonbouton improves both, physical and mental health care.
Bonbouton wearable device features innovative graphene sensors that monitor your skin’s physiological signals.
Collected data is then used to predict potential injuries, detect infection and monitor muscular activity.
The device is small and discreet which allows the users to add it to any item of clothing.
Latest Innovations in Wearable Technology – Beddit sleep tracker
If sleep is a problem, then Beddit wearable sleep tracker is the answer.
This wearable device can monitor your sleep without any disturbing bulky sensors, and it was designed in particular for bedrooms.
To date, Beddit sleep tracker can measure your sleep pattern only with the help of iOS devices. Android, to come soon.
As wearable technology is evolving fast, in athleisure, fashion, and medical landscapes, we can’t wait to see what wearables will become in the years to come.
Have some interesting wearables that you’d like to share with us? Leave your comments below or feel free to get in touch via the contact button.