SAN FRANCISCO — The digital domain is creeping off our desktops and onto our bodies, from music players that match your tunes to your heart beat, to mood sweaters that change color depending on your emotional state — blue for calm, red for angry. There are vacuum shoes that clean the floor while you walk and fitness bracelets, anklets and necklaces to track your calorie burning.
“Everyone agrees the race is just beginning, and I think we’re going to see some very, very big leaps in just the next year,” said tech entrepreneur Manish Chandra at a wearable technology conference and fashion show in San Francisco last week that was buzzing with hundreds of developers, engineers and designers.
Wearable technologies have long been a sideshow to mainstream laptop and smartphones, but this year Google’s glasses and rumors of Apple’s iWatch are popularizing the field. Analysts forecast swift growth. Last year the market for wearable technology — encompassing everything from hearing aids to wristband pedometers — totaled almost $9 billion. That should climb to $30 billion by 2018, said analyst Shane Walker at IHS Global Insights.
Humans have been wearing technology for centuries, from strapped-on compasses to pocket watches. The current surging industry is centered in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area, where mostly smaller startups design their products locally and have them manufactured in Asia to take advantage of cheap labor.
At last week’s conference, attendees slipped on monitors that measured their heart rates and temperatures to reflect whether they really were enjoying a movie, and shot photos through their Google Glasses of Vibease, the world’s first wearable vibrator controlled by smartphones, promising long distance intimacy.
“Do you really want a touch screen on the front of your T-shirt? Is it socially acceptable to be poked all over your body for somebody to use your wearable computer?” asked Genevihve Dion, who directs a fashion and technology lab at Drexel University.
The answer, for some, is no.
In a newly released survey from Cornerstone OnDemand, 42 percent of workers said they would not be willing to strap on wearable tech for their jobs, with older and more traditional employees more reluctant than their counterparts. The survey polled 1,029 Americans aged 18 and over in August, and had a 3.1 percent margin of error.
And then there’s an issue of bandwidth, said Ritch Blasi, a consultant with SVP-Comunicano who researches the wearable technology market. At this point, there simply isn’t enough network service to support universal and constant wireless use, he said. But that too will catch up.