Has wearable tech already gone out of style?

Samsung's Gear Icon X earbuds are also standalone media players - Photo: Samsung
Mar 29, 2019
Matthew Stern

Only a few short years ago, the high profile launch of products like the Apple Watch seemed to be heralding a new era of fashionable, functional tech-integrated clothing. But wearables may have instead gone out of style before fully taking hold.

In discussing the recent launch of Apple’s streaming service, a New York Times article discusses the trend of wearable technology firmly in the past tense. Author Vanessa Friedman points to the 2014 launch of the Apple Watch as the height of the trend. The device’s release enjoyed significant coverage from the fashion press and coincided with Apple’s courting of former top fashion talent to fill C-suite slots. The device even had an unveiling at Paris Fashion Week, with many big names in attendance. Other vendors, like Samsung, also made appearances at Paris Fashion Week that year, and brands like Ralph Lauren began working on wired clothing and handbags. But many of the names associated with fashion/tech collaborations have moved away from each other.

Marketing professor Scott Galloway told the Times that, in tech and fashion,The Venn overlap is not as great as anyone thought.”

While it may have been a while since the high fashion world last had its eye on Apple, there have been other big names in tech since 2014 that have experimented in other segments of the apparel world.

Google, for instance, partnered with Levi Strauss in 2017 to debut a “smart jean jacket” at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, TX. The jacket featured integrated technology meant to suit the needs of bike commuters, such as the ability to answer phone calls and control music by tapping its sleeves.

There have been other moves such as the development of functional clothing with embedded technology to help improve the lives and degrees of mobility of the disabled.

It’s not clear, however, how much prototype wired clothing, fashionable or functional, has actually made it to market.

Even the once must-have health tracker Fitbit has drastically fallen off in popularity in recent years. On a positive note, the company did report its first quarterly sales increase since 2016 during the 2018 holiday season, according to Gadgets and Wearables.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why isn’t wearable technology as popular as the industry projected it would be? Do you see replacements coming for the wearable tech currently on the market and what will that look like?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
" Yes, wearable technology will make significant strides forward, but not necessarily in my jean jacket."
"There are absolutely plausible use cases but they don’t scale at the level major tech firms like Apple need them to."
"My new FitBit serves a lifestyle purpose and it looks good, but it’s not “fashion.”"

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22 Comments on "Has wearable tech already gone out of style?"

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Mark Ryski

The reason wearable tech hasn’t taken off is that people just aren’t that interested. The fact that the technology is all still a little under-developed and expensive doesn’t help. There’s no doubt in my mind that wearable technology will get better, cheaper and will become a much bigger deal. This market trend just needs more time to develop.

Lee Peterson

It seems there is a tipping point for the phrase “knowledge is power,” where it actually tips backwards into “TMI.” When someone tells you they took 4,000 steps today, a little “so what” bell goes off in your head. Having said that, I do think that wearables, and even the glasses, are here to stay. Just not as huge as we first thought. There’s always going to be a thirst for more, more, more information from a certain breed of consumer. hen there’s the rest of us who have families. That alone is TMI!

Paula Rosenblum

Wearable tech has ended up focused on the watch, partly, I think, because it needs a battery to work and there’s “room” in the watch. Embedded in clothing, even with better batteries, you’d have to ask “How are you going to charge your jeans jacket, exactly?” Most people are just not that committed.

Wearables are turning out to be health aids more than fashion statements. That’s a good and useful thing for people with heart arrhythmia or old folks who might have “fallen and they can’t get up” problems. None of this is fashionable or sexy. The demographic skews older, not young. And the placement of the wearable has to be near an artery or vein, I think.

I finally bought an Apple Watch (Series 4), and it’s useful for some things besides health but I’m thinking it will be hard for me to wear during Miami’s long muggy summer. Seems like for most, it’s a solution looking for a problem.

Jeff Sward

I was an early skeptic and I now count myself as a convert. My new Galaxy watch is helping to change my behavior. The step count provides incentive to walk another X steps to hit the daily goal. The motion detector pings me if I sit at my desk too long. I shouldn’t have needed a watch to raise my awareness like this. But I did. I suspect more skeptics will convert as word of mouth helps to create new believers. How about solar powered jacket heaters?

Ken Lonyai

Largely wearables have been a solution looking for a use case (a.k.a. technology for technology’s sake). There are absolutely plausible use cases but they don’t scale at the level major tech firms like Apple need them to. Runners tracking performance often prefer a wearable, but a Bluetooth sensor and a phone can accomplish the same. Heart rate monitoring in a watch is very convenient, but the majority of watch buyers don’t fit the heart monitoring demographic.

Mobile phones are universally embedded globally in the daily lives of vast numbers of people. There has yet to be a killer wearable app to unseat it despite so many clunky aspects of carrying around a phone and all the taps it can take to accomplish some things.

Mike Osorio

As is the case for all digital technology, the best applications provide assistance to a consumer behavior that already exists or wants to exist, e.g. Apple Pay (we already need to pay, this makes it easy and safe), or Uber/Lyft apps (we already need transportation, these make it easy and secure). These are solutions to real needs. Wearable technologies for the most part are solutions seeking a need that apparently doesn’t exist in large enough numbers to be commercially interesting (so far). I do think there are some interesting applications for assisting disabled persons and other niche ideas that may become plausible. For now though, it seems wearables have plateaued.

Bob Amster

Keep your eyes on wearable technology for commercial purposes. Theatro is a perfect example. A wearable, voice-activated communication device for the hourly employee. Keeps the people in the front lines engaged to their company and attentive to their customer of the moment. Eyes up/hands free. Yes wearable technology will make significant strides forward but not necessarily in my jean jacket.

Georganne Bender

I’m good with the Apple Watch because it’s more convenient than carrying a phone and it does additional things, like monitoring heart rate. But I still love a classic watch so I won’t be wearing one any time soon.

At the Travel Goods Show this past week technology was everywhere in gadgets, bags, backpacks, and luggage but not in apparel and accessories. Consumers love technology, they just aren’t that excited about wearing it.

Brandon Rael

Wearable tech was a trend that simply never took off. The wearable technology hasn’t quite hit the economies of scale to extend significant value to the consumer. Add to that that the consumer is already continuously connected with several tech form factors, including smartphones, watches, and other devices that are already monitoring your every move. It’s very much a wait and see proposition.

Gene Detroyer

If wearable tech means clothing and fashion, it is a fool’s errand. If wearable technology means replacing technology that I have to use my hands for, then we are just seeing the beginning.

I haven’t worn a watch in over five years. I never had to, I always had a phone to tell me the time. If I could totally replace my phone for EVERYTHING I use it for, I may go back to a watch. But, better yet, if I could do that with glasses, I am golden. I would have to lose the typing and have it all voice interactive.

We aren’t far away. Perfection will come.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

We’ll see wearable tech-generated data disappear and morph into Internet of Things devices like our refrigerators, automobiles and, in an ongoing capacity, our smartphones. We’ll continue to generate data in less intrusive and obvious ways. This makes passage of a comprehensive consumer-protective privacy law in the U.S. (like Europe’s GDPR) even more crucial as consumer-generated data is increasingly created (and monetized in business models) in our daily life-flows, beyond our social network check-ins and retail receipts recorded.

Jasmine Glasheen

For wearable tech to be an in-demand product, it has to be affordable to those who would wear it. How many bike messengers can afford Levi’s smart jean jacket? In the same vein, how many CEOs or high level executives (who could potentially afford the product) are going to invest in a piece of denim?

It’s always fascinating to see how some of the most innovative thinking often neglects the basic mechanics that make retail happen— such as supply and demand.

Georganne Bender

Great point, Jasmine.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

My new FitBit serves a lifestyle purpose and it looks good, but it’s not “fashion.”

Rich Kizer

To me, wearable technology is about as boring as karaoke. It was cool to think of once upon a time. I love the Apple Watch, but until wearable technology creates a position and benefit I do not already occupy, I’m kind of tired of the conversations. That’s just me.

Ricardo Belmar

Wearable tech hasn’t quite taken off in the mainstream sense for many reasons, not the least of which is the price. There’s also the issue of meaningful use cases. Yes, health and wellness is one, but that market seems to be saturated before it really takes off — witness what’s happened to Fitbit. Those that want this have bought a device, and the Apple Watch by far is the success story here above all others. Is it a hit like the iPhone was? Definitely not. Not yet. Will it be? Maybe, but as many here have said, it still needs a better use case.

I see it coming soon as voice interfaces improve and AI helps power more useful “assistant” types of functionality that could move from our phones to our wearable devices. Of course, none of this makes it fashion, per se. Will we all be wearing denim jackets wired and powered to replace our phones? I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

Cate Trotter
Wearable tech (in terms of smart clothes, etc) definitely isn’t the big mainstream thing that perhaps people thought it would be. Some of this is down to price — you have to be able to afford it — but a lot is down to usefulness. So many of the ideas that we’ve seen people come up with, and some of the ones that come to market are just not that useful. They’re either tech for tech’s sake or clumsy or complicated to do things you can do with a press of a button on a smartphone. But there are some useful ideas still. Connected trainers for example is a growing area and you can see how being able to track your run in terms of distance, pace and speed etc may be useful. Wearable X’s connected yoga pants are an interesting case as they help to correct your posture which makes them 10 times more useful than a pair of yoga pants that you can touch to answer a phone call (for example). Interestingly the… Read more »
Liz Adamson

There may have been initial fascination with the new wearable tech, but consumers are starting to notice how distracting and inconvenient it is to have your wrist buzzing notifications several times a day. The constant connection to our smart devices has many people worried about the effect on their mental health and many are starting to find ways to decrease the influence of tech in their lives.

David Naumann

Apple Watches were a novelty when they were first introduced, but I don’t see as many as I used to. Millennials and younger generations pride themselves on not wearing watches and they say “Why would I wear a watch when my phone has the time?” Since most people have their phones on them at all times and can perform many of the same functions as wearables, it make wearables a tough sell.

Until there is a truly must-have wearable technology, they will still be a novelty.

Craig Sundstrom

As noted, it was never really in style. Even Apple has limits to its ability to create magic, it seems.

Ralph Jacobson

At this point in time, with the exception of tech-freaks who need to have the latest stuff, there is very little wearable tech that has shown true convenience and benefits that have become entrenched in the wider marketplace. One great example of a successful product that I predict will endure is the health/heart rate monitor wristband/watch.

Christopher P. Ramey

Wearable technology has to be in-fashion in order for it to go out of fashion. When the right product comes along it will be a hit. It’s yet to be created.

" Yes, wearable technology will make significant strides forward, but not necessarily in my jean jacket."
"There are absolutely plausible use cases but they don’t scale at the level major tech firms like Apple need them to."
"My new FitBit serves a lifestyle purpose and it looks good, but it’s not “fashion.”"

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