Panasonic debuted its high-tech hair dryer at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January alongside facial-recognition TVs, tablets and cameras. However, tech press at the event said they witnessed a very odd reaction from the audience. Rather than lean forward with intrigue and allure at this new and innovative product, sounds of laughter and disbelief emanated through the exhibit space.
However the ridiculousness of the design was not the subject of the reaction, rather the fact that a major tech company would launch a beauty product at such a high-profile tech event.
But why all the commotion? Hasn’t design always been taken into consideration with wearables?
The convergence of fashion and tech
As each generation becomes more fashion conscious, wearable tech companies must convince the market that fashion and necessity are a dual priority. Or in essence that wearables are in actual fact, wearable.
Considering beauty is a $426 billion industry and wearable tech is set to grow to $50 billion by 2018 according to recent Deloitte forecasts, the effective use of the two industries is a result wearable tech companies will be mouth-watering over. Ramon Llamas, research manager at tech research firm IDC, told an NBC journalist, “There’s a lot of amazing tech out there, but many of these products are made by male designers who don’t have a sense of style or design, their black wristbands or clips look fine, but they’re certainly not fashionable”. Ouch.
This summer has marked a major trend from big-name designers as big players like Google and Apple seem to be finally waking up to this trend. Brands like L’Oreal are getting close after their launch of the Makeup Genius app, a real-time 3D makeup simulator that uses a smartphone camera to map your face and sample products. And the June Bracelet, which works with an iOS app, aims to protect the skin and alerts users when they’ve been in the sun too long.
Fashion designers Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch (I had to look her up) have come to the rescue. This week Ralph unveiled a tech-embedded sports shirt, a month after designer Tory Burch started a jewellery line that houses the Fitbit fitness tracker, earlier in June, Diane von Furstenberg unveiled fancy Google Glass spectacles, and Intel is reportedly launching a “smart bracelet” at Barneys.
So, improved technology has let the beauty industry take steps forward and vice versa, but it still lacks a clear link to the “smart” features that have disrupted other fields. Thus for the time being, audiences will have to suffer the laughter at attempts to bridge the two industries until the balance has been achieved.
To be honest, I believe wearables should be as subtle as possible, as the inevitable expense and middle-classist perception that assist wearable tech products might disincentivise many consumers from buying into wearable tech. In the UK we’re a little quicker at telling each other what we think than say California, which has to be remembered, is the home of Silicon Valley.
One thing is for sure, the financial reward of successfully combining wearable tech and fashion is palpable, and tech companies need to start rethinking whom they select for networking event guest lists. In fact, I would go as far as to say that a cross-industry event, something along the lines of New York Fashion Week meets Silicon Valley Wearables Technology Conference (insert name change suggestions here), would be a match made in heaven. As well as the most amusing press event opportunity in years. It’d be like a pilot episode of the Big Bang Theory, an easily better one at that.