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Tech gimmicks, or fashion of the future?

MCT/ AFR | Feb. 28, 2013
A wristwatch that reads out your text messages, a jacket that heats up when you're cold, and glasses that display directions as you walk down the street

Google Glass. Photo: Reuters

A wristwatch that reads your text messages out loud, a jacket that heats up when you're cold, eyeglasses that display directions as you walk down the street.

Although those products may seem like something out of a James Bond movie, the world's largest technology companies and startups alike believe "wearable tech" is the next big frontier, and they have been pouring money and research into developing high-tech clothing and accessories.

"It's a function of time before wearable technology becomes real, and it's closer than a lot of people think," said Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray. "Eventually, wearable technology is probably going to be your most easy access point to your technology."

Google, the world's largest internet company, has been testing augmented-reality eyeglasses that feature cameras and use voice recognition. Apple is reportedly working on a watch that would have some of the same functions as a smartphone.

The idea behind "wearables" is to integrate technology into everyday basics, but it's more than just inserting a gee-whiz factor into your favourite pair of jeans.

Bringing tech into the fold, developers say, will create a more seamless experience with technology that involves fewer devices to carry around and less time rummaging through your purse or pocket.

But there are numerous challenges to overcome before wearable tech can become mainstream. Developers are working on improving battery life, scaling the technology down and making the products affordable.

Companies also need to persuade the public to accept the notion that digital devices and fashion can co-exist in one unit by designing wearables that don't look too techie and figuring out what kinds of functions to embed within the products.

"We have a lot of research to do," said Cory Booth, a user experience researcher at Intel, which has a team looking into the potential for wearables. "It's actually more about will people want to do it and how will they want to do it. When people start putting things on their bodies, it becomes very personal."

For now, wearable tech is taking off in the sports and health markets.

Goggles made by Oakley assist snowboarders via a display that integrates GPS capabilities, Bluetooth and sensors that gauge jump analytics such as distance, height and airtime. There's also smartphone connectivity and the ability to locate and track friends via an app.

With the Nike+ FuelBand, a wristband containing an accelerometer, wearers can set daily activity goals and track calories burned on the band's LED display. Data from the FuelBand - which Apple chief executive Tim Cook has been seen wearing - can be viewed on an Apple mobile device via an application. The Up by Jawbone wristband and Fitbit wireless activity trackers are similar products that help users eat and sleep better and record their physical activity.


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