Last month, the world watched in anticipation as details surrounding Apple's first smartwatch were announced. The fact that I work for one of the UK's leading app developers meant the release of Apple's latest gadget was of particular interest - and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I believe the product could be the perfect combination of fashion and tech that the market needs to fuel the uptake of wearable tech.
As the market currently stands, the actual application of wearables by both consumers and businesses is still relatively low, despite the surrounding media hype. Research published by Endeavour Partners last year found that a third of consumers who owned a piece of wearable technology actually stopped using it within half a year. In addition, research undertaken by the team here at the beginning of the year found that over a third of people surveyed would feel embarrassed or self-conscious if they wore wearable tech as it currently appears.
Statistics like these suggest that at present wearable technology lacks resilience, not to mention that device makers and businesses developing apps are not currently creating products that satisfy a genuine user need.
To combat this low uptake rate, wearable tech developers have smartened up and started to collaborate with the fashion world, in the hope that developing pieces that look stylish will convince consumers to invest in their products. Google has recently partnered with fashion heavyweight Diane von Furstenberg to design a range of aesthetically-pleasing glasses that incorporate Google’s cutting edge technology. Others are now hot on their heels. By creating a fusion of fashion and tech, it is hoped that the mass general public could be persuaded to embrace wearables.
However, collaboration between the fashion and technology industries is not something that comes naturally. The two parties are diametrically opposed; whereas technology is intrinsically linked with functionality, fashion centres upon desirability and aesthetic appeal. This doesn’t mean that a partnership between the fashion industry and the tech world isn’t achievable, it just means that both factions need to find some common ground when it comes to creating wearables that consumers look and feel great in.
By definition, wearable technology is about much more than just functionality. By their very nature, the devices are designed to be worn - and part of the appeal of items such as smart glasses, smartwatches, smart jewellery and smart wristbands is that they are bold statements that are meant to be visible.
Whereas early models have lacked flair and a certain je ne se quoi, with big tech brands now partnering with fashion giants, it seems the next generation of devices will put aesthetics centre stage.
On March 8th, tech aficionados were left visually salivating when Apple announced specific technical details about its smartwatch. To whet the appetite of hungry consumers Tim Cook, the Apple Watch head honcho, called it ‘the most advanced timepiece ever created’. As well as telling the time the device can respond to voice commands, measure the wearer’s heart rate, function like a credit card, and alert users to incoming calls and emails. What really stands it apart from other smart watches on the market though is that it can display many of the apps that we use every day on smartphones like our beloved social media networks Facebook and Twitter.
As well as creating a device that gives the smartphone a run for its money, the Apple Watch puts aesthetic appeal at the forefront of its design. The Apple Watch Edition really illustrates this; with an 18-carat gold case encrusted with sapphire, the device is turning heads in the fashion industry. So much so that it even featured on the cover of Vogue China.
So aesthetically, wearables are dramatically improving. However, I think at present the lack of the ‘killer app’ is what is missing from most smartwatches, as consumers don't want to invest in a product that does less than their smartphone. The Apple Watch could be about to change this, but building devices that move beyond a phone's capabilities will take time. We will also need to see a shift in app developers' priorities, as at present most firms are still concentrating largely on the smartphone market.
At present, Apadmi's predominant focus is still on developing apps for smartphones, however it is possible that we will look at extending our remit to cover smartwatches as uptake increases. We do believe that, with a bit of coaxing, consumers will begin to come round to the benefits of wearables and with this, the development of apps to complement these products will certainly increase. It will be interesting to see whether the Apple Watch could be the product that starts the big consumer shift.
What's next for wearable tech products then? I believe as standalone products, wearables do not yet have the uumpf needed to get consumers excited. However, by teaming up with the fashion industry to create products that are both eye-catching and cutting edge in gadgetry, wearable technology could have an extremely bright future.
By Hannah Pym, marketing manager at UK mobile app developer Apadmi