Fashion meets technology: A new era in wearables evolution

Unprecedented relationship between fashion and technology sets the wearables category on a path for accelerated long-term growth.

android wear 2

Disclosure: I am employed by Qualcomm Technologies.

Ten years from now, when we read about technology history, 2017 will be seen as a turning point in the evolution of wearables — when fashion met technology. Luxury brands used to think about novel fabrics, materials and designs when discussing technology advancements for their watches, glasses, hand bags and clothing. Now the minds behind the latest fashions consider the richness and responsiveness of their devices as well as the software user experience.

Smartwatches are taking center stage in this convergence of style and technology. The arrival of fashion smartwatches began in 2015 with launches from such brands as Fossil, Michael Kors and Tag Heuer. This year, in the days leading up to Baselworld — the premier event for the world’s watch and jewelry industry, celebrating its 100th anniversary — we saw a plethora of smart timepiece announcements. At the show, there were smartwatch introductions from Diesel, Emporio Armani, Fossil, GC, Guess, Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, Misfit, Montblanc, Movado, Tag Heuer and Tommy Hilfiger.

kors misfit android wear 2.0 Fossil

The Misfit Vapor is flanked by the Michael Kors Grayson (left) and Sophie watches.

Reaching this tipping point in the wearables evolution involved a long list of technology breakthroughs. Fashionistas demand a wide variety of smartwatch choices, sleek and thin designs, long battery life, a range of smart sensors, and beautiful, highly responsive user interfaces — all without compromising the watch industry’s focus on breadth of SKUs, styles and brands. Progress on these fronts requires unprecedented collaboration among fashion companies and technology firms such as Google and Qualcomm Technologies, my employer.

In February, Google released its most significant update yet to its wearables OS, Android Wear 2.0. For its part, Qualcomm has developed various wearable solutions including Snapdragon Wear, a system-on-chip platform specifically designed for wearables that brings together the smarts, the connectivity and the computing in an ultra-small integrated package. The development of smart timepieces required collaboration among fashion designers, software and semiconductor engineers, manufacturers and business managers coming from very diverse industries, cultures, geography, and backgrounds. After this first wave of fashion smartwatches, these cross-functional, cross-regional, cross-cultural teams are now planning the next generation of wearables.

guess android wear Guess

The wearables industry has seen significant innovation over the last couple of years. And the future is about to get even more exciting. In the fast-paced world of technology, we tend to forget that it takes time to develop and nurture a new category of devices. For example, many would say that smartphones “were born” in 2007–2008, with the arrival of the iPhone and Android devices. But smartphones existed more than a decade before that, going through years of iteration leading to the devices we carry in our pockets or purses today. For smartwatches, we are perhaps in year three of what’s probably a decade-long journey. As one wise man said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Over the next couple of years, we will witness the evolution of wearable technology with smartwatches and smart trackers targeting women, kids, pets and the elderly. Additionally, we will also see new sports watches and fitness trackers come to market. Most importantly, wearables will become more intelligent, will incorporate machine learning and computer vision capabilities, and will personalize the experience to its user and context.

Smartwatches and smart trackers are just the beginning in the wearables journey. Smart glasses, smart clothing, hearables and other form factors are making an appearance and adding new dimensions for innovation in this new category. With fashion and technology coming together, wearables are positioned for accelerated growth into the future.

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