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Fashion Or Functionality? Consumers Try To Make Sense Of Wearable Technology(Forbes)

The article first appeared on the Forbes.

Wearable technology has become a buzzword among marketers, consumers and well-being gurus. CCS Insight projects that the wearables market will grow to $34 billion by 2020.

But what exactly is wearable technology? The devices now flooding the market offer varied functionality – from activity tracking to mobile connectivity to medical monitoring. The Fitbit tracker, Apple smartwatch, Tambour Horizon smartwatch by Louis Vuitton and Sano’s glucose monitoring patch are all, technically, wearable technology. We are also seeing new products and vendors entering the wearable technology market, including fashion icons like Fossil along with their sub-brands and emerging companies like BBK and Li-Ning, that tap into niche segments of the wearables market. Fossil sells a luxury/fashion device, while BBK focuses on child-monitoring devices, and Li-Ning offers step-counting shoes.

As my own research with colleagues in the United Kingdom has found, shoppers struggle a bit to make sense out of this wearable avalanche. Our brains love to categorize new objects, preferably with a label that we’ve already applied to other things in the past. Just as we stereotype people, once we put a product into a category it’s very difficult for us to move it out of that niche. That means we apply the criteria we use to judge other members of that category to the new item. So that first impression is crucial – and in this case many consumers find themselves at a crossroads: For example, is this device on my wrist first and foremost a piece of jewelry or a computer? Depending upon how a shopper answers that question, the entire product evaluation process may look quite different. He or she will either compare that Louis Vuitton smartwatch to other high-end luxury watches or to other fitness trackers. Very few wearables out there can win both of these competitions.

While they offer a variety of capabilities, what unites most wearable technology products is that they use sensors makers embedded into everyday products like a watch, shoe, headband or necklace. This explains why apparel and footwear companies as well as tech brands are interested in this new hybrid category. Fashion designers like Tory Burch and Swarovski now offer wearable technology accessories that integrate with major activity trackers. For example, the Louis Vuitton Tambour watch includes a proprietary app linked to the Louis Vuitton city guides. The watch will know where you are at what time and can recommend the best nearby restaurant or bar or shop in seven world capitals.

Industry analysts predict that apparel fitted with intelligent agent technology is where the greatest opportunities lie for the wearable technology market. Smart clothing is just starting to emerge as a significant market entity. Now, companies like Samsung, Google, OMSignal, Hexo Skin and Under Armour are looking into ways to makes apparel as smart as smartphones. Since most wearable technology products are fitness-focused, smart clothing so far has followed in those footsteps with incredibly accurate fitness metrics.

Read more on the Forbes.

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