Another year, another Wearable Tech Show, except this time around it felt a little different. Accommodated in a smaller space compared to 2016, the event boasted 225 speakers, 100 exhibitors and more than 40 product launches, yet we still felt the hollowness left by the big boys of tech like Samsung who were not exhibiting this year.
The event showcased innovative startups whose products vary from performance sports to the latest developments in IoT, augmented and virtual reality. We found ourselves drawn to wearables and smart textile brands like AiQ clothing, Nimb ring, e-Senses Helios smart ring, Bright sign and Infini-tex.
For us, we attended the show mainly to hear what industry experts had to say on the direction wearables and smart fabrics industry was headed in. We sought our answers at the many conferences being held. By day 2 we had attended and listened to enough keynotes and panel conversations to be able to draw the following conclusions:
- Many experts believe that the hype around wearables has started to fade, leaving us wondering what that could mean for brands who have managed to take their product from prototype to market.
- That many people are over fitness trackers and smartwatches and are now ready for a new type of wearable that is centered around AI.
- The demand for wearables continues to grow in the medical, military, sports and fitness.
- Security is still an issue. The discussions surrounding this important feature seem to be centered around making brands understand that privacy and security should be a priority.
- The potential of smart fabrics is endless.
- The debate on how we can make wearables fashionable is still going strong
With fast pace changes constantly taking place in an industry that is still in its infancy, we were not surprised that the topics up for discussion attracted many opinions. Some valid, others a bit out there. After listening to the many, it was the few that drew us in. People like Nadia King, Matthew Drinkwater, Sanj Surati, Mili Thankara, Simon Austen and Elena Cochero not only seemed to talk the talk, they also seemed to hold opinions that had us nodding our heads in agreement.
Some of our favourite talking points include; on the topic of how wearables affect fashion, Sanj Surati Head of Digital & Innovation at Village shared, “Tech for Tech Sake, that is the problem with the merger of Fashion and Technology”. On the same topic Elena Corchero, Director of Design Research at Lost Values gave us food for thought when she boldly stated, “Smart materials are a better alternative to wearables.”
When the discussion of future apparels took place, Matt Drinkwater of Fashion Innovation Agency point of view stated, “We need to create a market for smart textiles, we need to excite consumers.” Adding to that Mili Thankara, Director of Technology and e-textiles shared, “Educating the final user about the product is the real challenge.”
Discussing the future of smart fabrics with Nadia Kang of AiQ, we learnt a lot. She is a woman who has been in the industry for over 8 years. She knows it in inside out and has a clear outlook on where we are all headed. On what works Kang was adamant that, “When it comes to smart fashion, you need a clear definition of who you are designing for.” She believes that when it comes to designing for the consumer we should not try to be everything to consumers. We need to decide who we are designing for, and create a product with features that would apply to that demographic. For example, one product should not have it, lighting, heating, contril, protection and bio monitoring, we should aim to keep it simple. On this, I could not agree with Nadia more. She knows what she is talking about. Before parting ways, I asked her when she thought smart fabrics will go mainstream, she answered without hesitation, ‘In three years”. So 2020 is the year that consumers will be [finally] exposed to smart apparel.
With so much going on, we did manage to make better acquaintance with a few movers and shakers. We had a coffee with Simon Austen of Third Skin. He is the man encouraging us to forget about headphones and invest in the perfect audio wearable, called Hy. As CEO of Third Skin, he has come up with a hybrid wishbone driver that combines a pair of pro audio balanced armature drivers for crystal clear mids and trebles, with piezo flexing elements which deliver deep bass directly to the bones of your middle ear. When we quizzed him on the current products coming to market he confidently stated that “There is a lot of technology, but it’s like nobody knows or has any idea what to do with it.” We couldn’t agree more.
We also had the pleasure of stealing a moment with Ben Cooper. The Senior Manager, Research & Testing at VF Corporation Global Innovation Center was moderator for the Apparel panel conversation at this year’s Wearable Tech Show. With insight into the wearable market, we find ourselves looking forward to continuing our conversation with him when we attend IDTechEx Show in Berlin on May 2017. Ben is going to be one of the speakers there. He will be speaking about The Future Of Wearables Depends On Truly Interdisciplinary Teams.
To conclude, we were a bit disappointed that the big players like Samsung and Intel did not make it to the Wearable Tech Show this year. We are not sure whether we should take this as a sign of what is to come. Then again, most great ideas come from the smaller companies, and this year there seemed to be plenty of those.