Strategic CIO // Digital Business
Commentary
6/18/2014
09:06 AM
Nick Warnock
Nick Warnock
Commentary
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Wearable Tech: Fashion Will Rule

With wearable tech, first impressions matter more than features.

8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

"Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It's not about brands. It's about something else that comes from within you." — Ralph Lauren

Wearable tech is ugly. Period.

But, but... THIS one is "different" because it can track heart rate and steps. 

But, but… THIS one is "cool" because I can see who is texting me -- on my wrist without taking my phone out of my pocket.

But, but... THIS one is "neat" because it has an impedance sensor that measures fluid levels in tissues.

But, but... THIS one is "a winner" because when I wave my hand over it, a hamster appears and does a song and dance. 

Give me a break. Besides the technorati who fawn over every new "wearable" concept appearing almost daily on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, most people could not care less. Wearable tech has not caught on because it lacks one simple and basic ingredient.

[For more on wearable tech, see Google Fit: Another Try At Health Data?]

I've been on a lot of first dates, attended lots of business meetings, and participated in many recreational sports leagues, ranging from hockey to beach volleyball. In all those settings, first impressions matter in determining whether you have a second date, a business deal, or a good teammate.

We're taught growing up not to judge a book by its cover, but then human nature rears its ugly head, and I judge. And so do you. The outcome is determined in the first 30 seconds during the greeting. People look at how you are dressed, how you are wearing it, what shoes you have on, whether you're married (or not), and -- if you live in Los Angeles -- what car you drive.

(Source: Wellograph)
(Source: Wellograph)

Two years ago we started developing our wearable device, Wellograph, originally called Swoof. Our team wrote illustrious plans on our whiteboard for what our wearable would do, and how it would beat the features of all other wearables. The sky was the limit! Though we started to notice more and more wearable devices appearing on the pages of eBay and other sites like it. Weird.

I asked my parents, who are in their sixties and moderately health conscious, if they would wear our device in its current form -- which at that time was a piece of plastic that did all kinds of amazing things.

Me: "Mom, it has notifications, heart rate, steps..." 

The blank stare said it all. Her words were kind and (of course) encouraging, as I am their son after all.

Mom: "Sure, maybe when we go for our evening walk."

Me: "So you wouldn't wear it all the time, knowing what it can do?!" 

Mom: "No, it's ugly." (Apparently running out of motherly encouragement.)

Well, they're old. What do they know?

Et vous, cool kids?
I started wearing the prototype on dates, to business meetings, and while I played volleyball. I'd show people the watch and explain why it was so awesome.

They proved as clueless as Mom. But these were the cool kids! The people in the know; the iPhone carrying; Bruno Mars/Pharrell Williams listening; health-conscious people who do CrossFit, Body Combat classes, Yoga, Pilates. At work or at play, they always looked great. 

Click.

We erased the whiteboard in our office. Functionality mattered, but not as much anymore. Fashion and style would now become our focus. Functionality would come later. We would endeavor to create a wearable that would sell well based on its aesthetic value alone. We were no longer creating a "wearable" but a beautiful piece of jewelry that could be worn for any occasion. 

Everything we wear makes a statement about us as a person. If I look great, I feel great. If I dress to impress, the people I meet will be impressed by me. I don't care what's inside "that book" -- if you aren't enticing me to read more than the cover, I may never find out how great you are.

So, make those first 30 seconds count because you may never get another chance at that second date, business deal, or great teammate. And when it comes to wearable technology, the only viable approach is K.I.S.S.

Keep It Stylish, Stupid.

Hear Nick Warnock and other top speakers at Designers of Things, the new event in wearable tech, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things. It happens Sept. 23-24 in San Francisco. Register for Designers of Things with marketing code EBDOT and save.

Nick Warnock is President of Wellograph Inc., the company behind premium wellness watch, Wellograph and co-founder of Atiz Innovation Inc. After finishing his degree at The University of San Diego, Warnock went on to sell copiers before competing on the first season of The ... View Full Bio
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zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 10:57:07 AM
Re: Wearable Tech: Fashion Will Rule
I don't know, I really have mixed feelings about this one. There's no shortage of articles and opinions on wearable computing out there, but it seems that nobody (pundit or manufacturer alike) has cracked the code yet. I think we're a bit off from realizing that sci-fi style appeal of the smartwatch, and realizing what we're doing wrong at the moment. The short version is that the devices just aren't catching on. plenty of them are being made, and some of them do have a 'fashion-first' approach,  but you just don't see people wearing them out in the wild. I don't know anyone who owns one, and I'm a sworn member of the 'technocrati'. That says it all.

For example, Nick, your mother said she wouldn't wear your other model because it didn't look good. Nevermind the idea that it might look good to someone else - geek chic, retro fab, etc. - maybe she would wear the new one because it looks more like a nice watch... but did she say she would buy one? Is she the target audience? Maybe your target audience is the younger, more athletic people you describe. Maybe they will get into the look, and the features - but what about when they see the price? Are there people outside the techie circle who want to drop a bunch of money on something like this? I don't think anyone has found the 'sweet spot'to help wearables hit critical mass yet, but I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Moderator
6/23/2014 | 5:50:02 AM
Re: The internet of things will be invisible
"The problem with many of todays wearables is that they don't free users from the web but instead do the opposite and make it increasingly interrupt our daily lives."

@james: When you say they "don't free users from the web", do you mean that users are still dependent on the internet technology to manage the communication between the devices? If so, what other means of communication would you suggest?
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Moderator
6/23/2014 | 5:47:45 AM
Re: Body AND brains
"All wearable makers should keep the Apple model in mind: Look great, but work great."

@Shane: I think one other key factor that wearable device makers should keep in mind is comfort. Unlike a phone or a tablet, a wearable device has to naturally fit into the user's environment and work like it's part of the body. Hence, the users should feel utmost comfort in the wearable gadget.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Moderator
6/23/2014 | 5:43:21 AM
Re: Design wins
"Makers of industrial products might dismiss "fashion" as too fancy a notion for its products, but it's hard to overstate the importance of design when it comes to customer-facing mobile interfaces, for example.  "

@Chris: I agree with you that the importance of design can never underestimated and the success of anything depends greatly on this. However, in the domain of design, I find integration to be the most essential component. The more smoothly a particular device is able to integrate in the user's environment, the higher will be the usablity and success will be more likely.
KristineSantos
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KristineSantos,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 2:33:48 PM
Design Focused Startups
There definitely has been a disconnect between wearable technology and technology people will actually wear, but that is changing. I'm in Atlanta and I went to an event a week ago for a new innovation hub that is specializing in design-based startups (Switchyards). I also had the opportunity to interview the CEO of a smartglasses startup the day before that event and I heard very similar messages about the importance of design. People don't like ugly things, they don't like clunky things, and they don't like things they can't figure out. People settled for ugly in the past because it was something entirely new and different. Tech is so integrated in our everday lives that we don't see most things as completely different, so wearable tech companies have to do more than just have something cool and I think that's why more designers are carving out their place in the startup scene.
colorblindjames01
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colorblindjames01,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 10:28:58 AM
The internet of things will be invisible
The internet of things, for the most part, will be invisible. The purpose of IoT is to free us from the internet. The problem with many of todays wearables is that they don't free users from the web but instead do the opposite and make it increasingly interrupt our daily lives.

Fashion is important but not as important as providing an important service. Most of us today only use a small fraction of the features of our smartphones. Unless wearables can provide an essential or important services they will be no more than niche products.

My blog on this is here.

 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
6/19/2014 | 2:25:09 PM
Re: Hidden is key
We're starting to see those, Lorna. Here's a heartrate monitor that's worn as a stick-on patch:  

http://mobihealthnews.com/29484/aetna-now-reimburses-for-irhythms-zio-patch/
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/18/2014 | 4:50:42 PM
Hidden is key
No wearable will go with everything, so the key to me is being able to put it in my pocket or, if I don't have a pocket, clip it inside a shirt or waistband. Heck, why can't someone makes one that attaches like a patch?
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 2:53:50 PM
Re: Design wins
I agree. I have noticed that techno enthusiasts focus solely on the features.  But, the appearence of the devices is as important at the features. A lesson it seems it is difficult to grasp.  I think wearable devices won't become mainstream until they are design on appearance and features.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 12:28:47 PM
Re: Design wins
@Laurianne yes, they can be put into clothes, which leaves a lot more options for where the sensor can be beyond the wrist. Currently, the company has a product to monitor impact on athletes with a sensor in a cap. It's coproduced with Reebook and called Checklight
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