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In wearables, design needs to come before tech, says Levi’s

The wearables industry is expected to double in market value to $27bn+ by 2022, according to CCS Insight. But for Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, consumers will only fully invest in these tech accessories if they look good once turned off.

“We aren’t building a product just for the technology”, he said at a conversation during the Fashinnovation conference in NYC this week. “This has to be a technology integrated with things that you already want to wear because even if the technology isn’t engaging, people still want to wear their Levi’s jean jacket,” he later told TheCurrent Daily.

He was joined on stage by Ivan Poupyrev, Google’s Head of Advanced Technology and Projects, who worked with the denim brand on the original Project Jacquard jacket, which uses a sensor on the cuff to control music, screen phone calls, and even receive notifications from Uber or Lyft. Google famously thought tech-first when it designed its now defunct Google Glass, but it (naturally) believes trial and error is part of the process: “You put the product in the market, learn from mistakes, and do it again.” According to Poupyrev, however, unlike the Glass, there was a strong focus on the physical appearance of the smart jacket, wherein technology came in to simply extend its functions.

Now, instead of creating a product from scratch, Google is focusing on working with established brands in the industry, who can teach the tech giant a thing or two about what fashion customers want. “We realized that if you want to change the nature of apparel, as a connected and intelligent garment, you need to work with someone who has expertise in making apparel,” said Poupyrev. “Not just a prototype, but someone who understands how to scale all the way from the design to the supply chain and marketing. That was a shift  in thinking in the company as well.”

The Levi’s Commuter x Google Jacquard jacket
The Levi’s Commuter x Google Jacquard jacket

Since Levi’s is one of the world’s biggest brands in denim, a partnership with the brand was an important strategic decision. While the classic Levi’s jacket retails at $150 or less, the smart model retails at $350. For Dillinger, customers who chose the premium alternative should expect the technology to continue to evolve with time.

In 2017, six months after it was first introduced to the market, it received a series of updates, such as enabling it to work with Uber and Lyft. Just before Christmas, it added a functionality where the jacket sent the user a pin drop notification in case the owner left it behind. “That was a new value that no one was expecting for it or paid for it,” he said. “That promise of sustained improvement puts the purchase in the context of a lifetime, instead of a moment.”

Just like a smartphone, the jacket keeps improving. But unlike a shiny new iPhone, a Levi’s jacket customer is looking for design that is timeless and not forced into obsolescence. “You can talk about improvements of a phone, but eventually that phone won’t be the one you want to have any more. This garment, this jean jacket, stays in perpetuity, so the value will continue to go up”, added Dillinger.

For all its innovation, this is still an early attempt at a mass-market smart denim jacket. But as the technology becomes more deeply integrated into people’s lives, the wearable category may well begin to move beyond its early adopters.

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product technology

Levi’s updates its Google smart jacket with Uber, Lyft and Bose features

Google x Levi's Project Jacquard
Google x Levi’s Project Jacquard

Levi’s has announced its first update on its Project Jacquard smart jacket developed in collaboration with Google, including the ability to work with ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, and Bose headphones.

Although at this point users won’t be able to order a car through the jacket, once connected to the Uber or Lyft apps, it will notify them that their ride is three minutes away and do so again once it arrives via its cuff, which will light up and vibrate. Brushing the cuff will also enable real-time updates on the car’s whereabouts via connected headphones.

Google x Levi's Project Jacquard
Google x Levi’s Project Jacquard

The jacket now also supports Bose’s Aware Mode, which picks up any surrounding sounds and sends them to the user’s headphones. This enables users who are listening to music while on the go to still enjoy noise reduction, but be able to hear any important things happening around them – in a cyclist’s or pedestrian’s case, this could mean a horn or a fast-approaching vehicle. Bose users will also be able to turn their headphones on or off via hand gesture.

Another new jacket feature enables users to drop a pin on the map to save a location and then see and share that from the app’s activity screen.

At a conference in California in October 2017, Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh hinted at upcoming innovations by stating that if there is a feature that doesn’t require a screen, it is possible that it could be incorporated into the commuter jacket’s 2.0 version. By approaching it with that mindset, the company can potentially investigate the future of smart clothing beyond cyclists, which was its initial target audience with the Google partnership.