Wearables are one of the most exciting developments in technology, and have inspired the fashion industry in some intriguing ways. But there’s still plenty of skepticism about everything from battery life to appearance. Some even wonder if computers strapped to our bodies 24/7 could have adverse health effects (although, to be fair, it’s hard to see how wearables would be any different from an iPhone in that regard).
Wearables are taking time to gather momentum. Google Glass was disbanded, and Apple hasn’t disclosed how many watches it is selling. Even if sales are stronger than analysts estimate, the Watch hasn’t exactly gotten glowing reviews. Even the most favorable reviews suggest it is not a device for “tech novices.” Walt Mossberg at Re/Code went further, dubbing one wearable a “celibacy band.”
If the people who test gadgets for a living are having trouble adapting, it’s safe to say we still have a few years before wearables will be relevant to typical consumers, much less those who care about looking stylish.
They Aren’t Practical
Right now the popularity of exercise culture–as driven by brands such as Soul Cycle, Lululemon, and Fitbit–is driving much of the activity in wearables. Once upon a time, it wasn’t acceptable to wear sporty clothes. (In fact, traditionally, fashion and practicality have been at odds. Anyone who has ever worn heels knows this.) But today, you can wear yoga pants and trainers 24/7 and no one will bat an eye.
However, to be relevant in consumers’ lives, wearables need to extend beyond fitness. It’s obvious that for the Apple Watch to work it is going to have to have a wide selection of apps that different kinds of people can incorporate into their everyday lives. That’s going to require far more options and addressing what many deemed a flawed operating system.
They Aren’t Stylish
Hermès partnered with Apple on a watch, which is noteworthy. Ultimately, though, it’s going to take a lot more than a luxury brand to convince users that wearables are fashionable. To begin with, not many people can afford a $1,100 watch. Apple assumes that Hermès will inspire other fashion brands to create chic designs that can appeal to a broader market, but that could take a while.
Wearables will also have to deal with their so-called “women problem.” The designs of most wearables are ostensibly unisex, but we know that’s not really true. They have the large faces traditionally associated with men’s watches and are often bulky. To be fair, it’s harder to reconcile the need for memory and software with traditional feminine designs, which come with smaller faces and nimble bands. But it wasn’t until this spring that Motorola began addressing the problem through redesigns, raising questions about how much of a priority it is for manufacturers.
They Aren’t Subtle
To put it more bluntly, wearables are still ugly. That’s central to why Google Glass failed to catch on with consumers, despite having some important use cases, from navigation to photography and filming instructional video. It just looked too dorky.
If they’re going to build wearables that people are actually excited to wear, tech companies need to understand that consumers don’t want to alter their face. Fashion is about bringing out the best you, not hiding beneath a clunky headset. A lot of the greatest innovations in fashion are ones that you can’t (or barely) see, from pockets to beautifully lined suit jackets. Wearable makers should steal from fashion’s playbook and make products that are less showy.