Fashion has seen all kinds of weird and wonderful things come and go. From platforms and flares to boob tubes and zoot suits, wearing the right clobber has always been a sure-fire way to express your character and identity. These days, extra street cred can be gained if you wield the latest phone or use the slickest pair of headphones.
All of that is now being combined into one as the digital juggernaut thunders ever onwards into a new era, one which heralds the dawn of wearable technology. In other words, our clothes and accessories are about to get smart. Google Glass (the hi-tech computer specs with optical head-mounted display) has stolen something of a march, but there’s plenty more to come.
Tech consultancy iSuppli estimates that by 2016, more than 92 million wearable technology devices will be sold every year, while Credit Suisse reckons the market in wearable tech could be worth $50 billion in five years. That’s more than ten times its current value, officially making it a mega-trend.
“Wearable gadgets are definitely going to be one of the big areas of growth over the next two years,” said Frost & Sullivan analyst Andrew Milroy during an interview with the BBC. His opinion is backed up by the fact that 2014 looks like being a massive year for wearable technology, with a line-up of products so dazzling it will make Q’s lab from the James Bond movies look positively pre-historic.
So what’s in store? Well, in addition to the global launch of Google Glass – already on sale in certain countries – the likes of Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are all said to be planning to release a snazzy range of smart watches.
Over in the US, Heapsylon says it is developing sensor-equipped socks that help owners monitor their balance when walking or running. Meanwhile, in China, another company has already unveiled the Geak Ring – a finger-worn device which can unlock a user’s smartphone or pass data to others.
Then there’s Sony, who have reportedly filed a patent application for, wait for it, SmartWig. And before you ask. Yes. It’s a wig. Which is smart. Apparently, it can be worn in addition to natural hair and will be able to process data and communicate wirelessly with other external devices. The SmartCap could be slightly more practical. Essentially a smart baseball cap or hard hat, it measures brainwaves to tell you when you’re tired. Useful in industries such as transportation or construction, perhaps.
This expected boom could actually be good news for AkzoNobel. Already a leading supplier of coatings to the consumer electronics industry, there is certainly potential for the company to offer existing technology – and innovate to meet changing needs.
“Wearable devices are highly technological products that often require breakthrough coatings, which AkzoNobel’s Specialty Finishes business is constantly developing,” explains Global Segment Manager, Consumer Electronics & Lifestyle, Jeff Bailey. “These innovative coatings incorporate new functionalities that not only improve the devices from a performance point of view, but also enhance the customer experience by adding aesthetic qualities.
"In addition, our new colors, effects and textures, all of which are state-of-the-art, will offer consumers a more fashionable and personalized look and feel.” He adds that trends foreseen in wearable technologies include coatings for very flexible surfaces and coatings that feel very natural, like skin or leather.
Given the expected boom, it’s inevitable that some of the wearable products due to hit a store (or website) near you will soon end up in gadget oblivion. But which ones. What about the Navigate jacket from Wearable Experiments?
It uses LED lighting and something called “haptic feedback” to provide directions for the wearer. It also comes with an accompanying app that stores destinations and uploads the directions to the jacket’s built-in GPS system, allowing the wearer to walk to their destination without having to whip out their devices for directions. These are visualized on the sleeves, with LED light letting you know how far you are before the next turn, while vibrations tell you when to turn and in which direction.
Scour the internet and you’ll soon come across smart teeth (which know your eating and talking habits); tattoos that monitor your sweat; a power pocket for clothes which recharges your phone; scannable pyjamas that tell bedtime stories, programmable T-shirts and a wristband which confirms your identity through electrocardiogram sensors that monitor the pattern of your heartbeat.
How many of those will prove to be commercially successful, only time will tell – unless some kind of funky gadget embedded in our ears tells us first.