Wearables Now Functional But Still Unfashionable

There’s no amount of utility that can save bad fashion. The Android Wear watches unveiled in late June, arguably the most capable smart watches designed for mass adoption, have many features that augment an Android phone but they’re square in both shape and style.

Samsung and LG gave their first hands-on previews to developers and journalists at Google IO, and the reviews have been muted. The two watches run exactly the same hardware, capable of displaying alerts and receiving voice commands, and both are big black squares attached with a black or white plastic strap.

Some reviewers are holding out hope for Motorola’s Moto 360 – the only Android Wear watch featuring a round interface. In other words, it’s the first smart watch that actually looks like a watch.

Getting fashion with function

I don’t believe that these watches will achieve widespread adoption until they achieve a fashion sense. Right now, the argument exists that these watches enhance your tech life, but even if they do enhance the way consumer use their phones, they must overcome their blocky looks.

On the topic of a potential Apple iWatch, Pete Pachal of Mashable wrote that smart watches have two potential customers: techie customers who shop at electronics stores, and people who might buy an expensive watch on its fashion merits alone. He wrote:

These folks are buying a fashion statement and status symbol as much as a timepiece. No smartwatch vendor has made a play for these customers yet, probably because the current crop of smartwatches look big and ugly in comparison to your average Swiss-made analog model.

Technology and business reporter Rachel Arthur said this after visiting CES to examine some wearable technology:

A big chunky (and by that I mean, ugly) cuff (digital or not) on my wrist is not something I enjoy wearing, meaning a couple of weeks into owning something like that, I am likely to have forgotten about it. The novelty has worn off.

Ladies have particular objections to the design of these watches. ReadWrite’s Adrianna Lee said that the smart watches are generally too big for her wrist. She wrote:

The gadgets offer different features to satisfy various needs, but none can give me the one thing I really want: an attractive, functional device that doesn’t look ridiculous on my delicate lady wrists.

That doesn’t diminish the utility of these devices, but as with so many superficial aspects of society, fashion is a condition for its use. In other words, if you don’t want to be seen wearing a piece of tech, you won’t wear it.

Take a lesson from Google Glass

Google Glass users are disparagingly known as glassholes for their conspicuous, unapologetic and unfashionable use of the devices. They make people look like Borg, and the social pressure is what will keep Glass off the faces of the general public until a more nuanced design is released.

Apple’s rumoured iWatch is (as with many of their rumored products) the unicorn in this scenario. With a ton of cash to burn in development, Apple could produce a smart watch with enough utility and style for people to actually wear it. The concepts created by tech fans are more exercises in fantasy than engineering, but they offer hope for a design that is at least easy on the eyes.

That’s the point we’re at for wearables. The hardware and software exist, but the largest and final hurdle, people’s vanity, has yet to be overcome.

This article originally appeared in the Dx3 Digest. The Dx3 Digest explores the realistic challenges and tremendous opportunities awaiting Canada in the future of digital. Subscribe to the the Dx3 Digest newsletter here.