You may have seen E&T Magazine's recent coverage of augmented reality in our AR Special.
An attractive woman graces our cover, kitted out with internet-enabled glasses, Google Glass. We were particularly pleased with the graphic design of this special issue, but I must admit that when the printed issue landed on my desk earlier this month I couldn't stop staring at the model's Google Glass; and not for the right reasons.
For a creative brand that brightens users weekdays with aesthetically-pleasing, time-themed displays featuring the likes of Picasso, Australia Day and the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, I can't comprehend how Google has got the appearance of their 'modern window on the world' so wrong. As someone who sported Deirdre Barlow glasses from the tender age of two to adolescence, trust me when I say I have the authority to say; they're ugly.
Unfortunately, this is the problem associated with most of the products evolving from the wearable devices market; no one would ever actually want to wear them. Google is only one in a list of device developers whose intuition in this area seems to have fallen by the wayside: for consumers to want to buy a product they need to want to wear it first, particularly if it is to be worn on the face.
Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley's most prominent venture capitals funders said, "We're very bullish on the idea of ubiquitous computing, which has been an idea our industry has had since the late 1980s. The essential idea is that computers will be everywhere - they'll be in your glasses, they'll be part of your clothing.
"We already see people bringing their smartphones with them everywhere and reaching for them first thing in the morning so we know people want a computer with them at all times - to help them figure what they need to do or where to go or how to get there or to learn more about the person they're about to meet with. Google Glass is just a less obtrusive, always there, always on extension of that same idea."
But he admits that technology embracing fashion has not had such a notable level of success as fashion embracing technology.
"I'm desperate for some fashion sensibility to enter tech. Over the last 20 years, I've looked at a lot of ugly stuff," said Wennmachers. "For the next wave of true merging of fashion and tech, we need more companies that have a culture that celebrates both, the technical and the design talent. You're already seeing this at companies like Jawbone, but we have a long way to go."
But there may be hope for Google Glass yet. Independent eyewear designer Warby Parker
- creators of sophisticated, often vintage-look glasses - have reportedly been buttering Google up in an effort to collaborate on the next design stage of Google Glass. Hopefully the second wave will look less like the safety goggles favoured by school science labs.
Aside from entertainment, the fitness and health market remains one of the most lucrative for developers of wearable devices. But the current barrier to it becoming a truly successful market to exploit is also the medical industry's reputation in ugly design. In an industry where bestsellers are prosthetics, pacemakers and eye-patches, it's not difficult to work out how the industry has achieved this reputation.
In contrast, one sector that always seems to get wearable devices right on the money is the audio industry. One only has to remember the success of the iPod and the now largely defunct Creative ZEN to realise the reputation-building aspect of portable music players. And before that came the iconic Sony Walkman, a timeless and nostalgic symbol of cool.
In response to this, there is one company that is merging the street-cred of audio with the functionality and necessity of medical wearable devices. This is curious gadget company Jawbone
, creator of fiercely-named audio headsets, fitness wristbands and portable speaker systems. Their slick, minimal designs - including 'Up' wristbands that track your fitness levels through your smartphone - are wearable devices that consumers actually want to wear.
In an effort to extend their grip on the burgeoning health-monitoring offshoot, Jawbone acquired wearable device company Bodymedia
earlier this year. Bodymedia specialise in medical and fitness devices aimed at healthcare and fitness professionals who want to monitor the calorie loss, sleep levels and movement of their patients. In comparison to Jawbone's sleek offerings, Bodymedia's clunky, garishly patterned devices are much less attractive and are badly in need of a complete design overhaul; cue the rebranding of clever bodymedia products with Jawbone go-faster stripes.
But the aesthetics of a wearable device is not the only barrier to its success; also at top of the agenda is how it feels. First Warning Systems
are a fledgling medical technology organisation that have gone one step further and integrated a health-monitoring procedure normally associated with intense discomfort into a device that can be worn with comfort on a daily basis.
Its smart bra resembles your average sports bra, but hidden inside are sixteen high-spec sensors that monitor the fluctuating temperature of breast tissue, symptoms which 90% of the time are linked to the irregular growth of new blood vessels and in turn, tumour growth. Anyone who has ever undergone mammogram testing due to current risk or a family history of breast cancer will testify it's a pretty nasty, and often completely innefective method. In this wearable device, First Warning Systems has essentially created a non-radiogenic, non-invasive, and non-toxic mammogram testing system inside a bra. Clever stuff.
Edited: 14 May 2013 at 04:04 PM by Abi Grogan