When Google’s Sergey Brin was photographed on the NYC subway at the end of January wearing a prototype of the Google Glasses, who would ever have thought we’d seriously be talking about “wearable tech” as one of the biggest trends of 2013 without a trace of irony? But the whole notion of wearable tech is transitioned in the past week and seems ready to tip into the mainstream. While Apple toys with the concept of an iWatch, people are signing up to test the new Google Glasses the way they once raced to sign up for Google’s earliest product launches. Even the U.S. Postal Service is experimenting with a line of "Rain Heat & Snow" wearable tech that integrates with devices such as the iPod.
While the idea of wearable tech is not new, what’s different about the current iteration is that the fashionista crowd seems to have finally embraced the trend. It’s no longer considered awkward, strange or aesthetically unpleasing to integrate high-tech into clothing, which means it's no longer surreal to see Google Glasses pop up at events like the Oscars. When Diane von Furstenberg decides it's time to rock the Google Glasses look, you know that something very interesting is happening in the world of fashion. Suddenly, fashion designers have the green light to move ahead with things such as "trackable clothing," in which Bluetooth technology can be used with your smartphone to track down those comfy winter gloves or hats you left somewhere but just can’t remember. In short, it’s no longer head-scratching when a company such as Google wants to partner with a stylish fashion brand like Warby Parker to produce Google Glasses. We’re seeing the fusion of fashion and tech in a wonderful new way.
Meanwhile, the biggest consumer technology companies now might have an answer to the question that has been haunting them, “What comes after the smartphone?” The disappointment out of this year’s CES was that the biggest ideas Silicon Valley seemingly had to offer were better TV screens and the, ahem, "phablet." That fear seems to be overblown. The Google Glasses and (rumored) iWatch are not just smart phones in a new guise — they reflect a fundamental re-thinking of how we interact with technology. In short, there has to be a better way to get things done than to stare into a tiny screen and peck away with a makeshift keyboard with two very opposable thumbs. From this perspective, the Google Glasses are at the forefront of making technology seamless, omnipresent and available in ways never before possible.
Still not convinced that wearable tech is more than a passing fashion fad?
As companies that straddle both the worlds of fashion and technology — companies such as Nike and Oakley — get involved in the wearable tech trend, there’s room for wearable tech to seriously disrupt the way we think about healthy lifestyles. Thanks to the relatively cheapness of small sensors that can be embedded in clothing or glasses, it’s now possible for wearable tech to interact with your surrounding environment. For now, Nike has the Nike+ FuelBand, while Oakley has the Airwave Goggles that bring all kinds of high-tech goodness to the ski slopes. And there’s more on the way that sounds like science fiction, like a new high-tech sweatband called the Myo that enables you to control flying drones with just a few twitches of your forearm.
All of this augurs well for wearable tech making it into the mainstream. As Christopher Mims of Quartz remarked this week after seeing pics of Google Glasses at the Oscars, the biggest thing that Sergey Brin has done with the Google Glasses is to make them seem normal by wearing them at every opportunity. Wearable tech no longer has to be something that you pick up as a gimmick to impress your friends or a goofy gift you pick up for your hipster buddies around the holidays. Suddenly, wearable tech has the potential to be so seamless that it integrates into your everyday life without making you feel like an alpha nerd. Which, according to Arthur C. Clarke, was the goal of any sufficiently advanced technology — to be indistinguishable from magic.
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