Appearance is everything – at least when it comes to wearables. And right now, looks are a definite barrier, says Will Findlater, Editor in Chief of Stuff. While each new gadget comes with its own set of aesthetic rules, the style threshold for wearables is especially high, as for the first time, a smart device will be about more than function. When it comes to a regular watch, people want it to keep good time, but they usually buy the one they like the look of.
A fashion purchase is about self-expression. “Tech is literal,” says Findlater, “what we wear on our bodies is largely symbolic.” The issue here is that tech companies aren’t used to conveying something so ineffable as personal taste, or providing the kind of choice that fashion consumers will be looking for. “So far, smartwatches have been a case of ‘let’s create a smartphone that fits on the wrist,’” says Findlater, “maybe with a couple of different colour options.”
The future of wearables hinges on integration between tech and style; how a product looks needs to be as central to the development process as what it can do. Intel is making some headway in this area, having partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Barneys of New York to launch a wearables design competition, the results of which will be unveiled in November. And Google has famously collaborated with Diane Von Furstenberg on Glass, coming up with a series of less clunky-looking frames, which Findlater calls “a bit of a lipstick pig.”
Now is the time, in other words, for tech companies to be approaching DvF, Police, Oakley, and various other fashion manufacturers, and asking them how they can integrate their services into a product that people will actually want to buy. That, according to Findlater, is the approach that will eventually win out in the wearables market.
Tech companies should be making their functionality irresistible, and creating a platform that can be rolled out across a variety of manufacturers, devices, and tastes. “Smartwatch operating systems should be invisible, except for in the experience and the capabilities that they provide.” It’s simple enough, he says; just play to your strengths. Tech companies; focus on what you are known for, and let the fashion houses come up with something people will want to buy and wear.
Once that balance between form and function has been achieved, Chua Zi Yong believes there will be no difficulty in selling wearables. “The USP of wearables is not just one killer feature,” he says. “You don’t buy a phone just to use WhatsApp; it can do so many different things. It’s the same for wearables.” According to Yong, MD of Stream Media, the appeal of wearables can be broken down into four key points:
Wearables are personal: if you wear glasses, you wear them from the moment you get up in the morning to the moment you go to bed. The same is usually true of a watch. If you wore a sensor all day, imagine the data it could capture, and how it could add value: for instance, are you swinging your golf club correctly?
They are contextual: You’re taking a flight. A boarding pass can automatically upload to your smartwatch from your email, check you in, and tell you the local time at your destination.
They are a medium for staying connected. Part of the appeal of a wristband, we are told, is that you can answer calls without having to take your phone out of your pocket or handbag – perfect for multi-tasking and safer when driving.
They offer a wealth of insights: While you may not necessarily know what to do with your heart rate or glucose level, this data can be sent off to companies who can tell you exactly what kind of health you are in, and what changes (if any) need to be made to your lifestyle.
Adoption of television and radio took years. With smartphones, it takes months. Once tech companies hit on the right mix of service and style, Yong believes wearable adoption will go “through the roof”.
And when that happens, the sky is the limit for marketers, says e27 editor Surender Dhaleta. Each device is packed with data on our likes and dislikes, habits and preferences, and how we react to certain stimuli and situations. The potential for “volume, variety and velocity” in marketing has never been greater.