Editor's pick technology

No surprise: wearables are trending at #SXSW


It’s impossible to miss the theme of wearables at SXSW in Austin this week, if only for the fact the Adobe-sponsored tote bags given to every delegate on registration are emblazoned with the phrase: “Totes: the original wearables.” The small-print even adds: “They’re tote-ally the future.”

The five days of conference sessions reflect the topic too with speakers from Intel, Misfit, Jawbone, adidas and Ringly all part of talks dedicated to exploring the connected devices consumers are beginning to place on their bodies.

Sandra Lopez, director of wearables, biz dev and marketing strategy for fashion at Intel, kickstarted her session on the first day today however, by wishing for the term “wearables” to disappear. “I can’t wait for the word wearables to go away because everything we wear is wearable.” What we should be talking about rather is how to make technology invisible, she urged.

Travis Bogard, VP of product management and strategy at Jawbone, agreed invisibility should be the primary consideration. “It has to first be wearable and then we can have the conversation about what it does. It has to be something you would want to wear anyway and then we can hide the technology in it.”

This focus on form versus function isn’t new in the wearables space – it was indeed a big theme at SXSW in 2014 too – but what’s happened since is a further exploration of making this a reality. Intel partnered with Opening Ceremony and launched its MICA in the timeframe for instance, while Apple has of course also introduced the Apple Watch, which hits retail next month.

Where there’s still an issue, said speakers, is thinking about a single device that people are expected to wear consistently. Brandon Little, chief creative officer of the Fossil Group pointed out that variation is key in the watch market. “The average watch collector globally own more than three watches. In some parts of the world they have up to seven. They change their watch dependent on their mood,” he explained.

The Apple Watch will come with a selection of different straps to choose from, as well as the varying metals defining its price point (aluminium, stainless steel or 24-karat gold), but fundamentally it doesn’t solve the fact that not everyone is going to want to wear it all the time.

Little explained that the wearables game isn’t going to be about one winner. With variation as a desire, we’re likely to see consumers switching from one device to the next depending on what functionality they’re after as well as what they like the look of at any point in time, he said. Where that gets complicated is enabling features on one device to then speak to another. “The future is all about offering variation and customisation, but the fundamental part is ensuring these connected things then all work together.”

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By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.

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