We get it - wearable tech is "actually wearable" now

What to expect in mainstream fashion tech in 2016
Wearable tech is "actually wearable"

The tech industry's favourite wearable tech headline for a while has been "PRODUCT NAME is the wearable you'd actually wear' or 'PRODUCT NAME is actually wearable.'

But it's time to put that zinger to bed, don't you think? We've been considering wearing this stuff since 2012 and it's getting old. Still, it's pretty obvious that there are now a whole bunch of wearables that people are happy to wear, tens of millions of people in fact according to sales figures for 2015.

9 January 2016, CNET: "Samsung's smart clothes are wearables you'd actually wear"

31 October 2015, Ars Technica: "Fossil Q wearables: smartwatches that actually look good"

26 August 2015, Alphr: "Samsung Gear S2 actually looks like a watch you'd wear"

30 September 2014, The Verge: "Basis' new fitness tracker actually looks like something you'd want to wear all day and all night"

2 July 2014, Gizmodo: "LG G Watch review: A wearable you'll actually consider wearing"

20 August 2013, Wired: (on Meta) "Google Glass reborn as something you'd actually want to wear"

14 November 2012, FastCo Exist: "The Shine: A Self-Tracking Device You'd Wear Even If It Didn't Do Anything"

What are these lazy headlines referring to though? What wouldn't we actually wear? Ugly, ill thought through devices like the Samsung Gear 2, that's what. The good news is that we can forget that ever happened. The Gear S2 and the like are stylish enough for early adopters to get on well with and as that smartwatch form factor gets smaller, thinner and longer lasting, even screen based wearables are sneaking into the mainstream.

The year of the connected accessory

In fashion tech terms, 2016 is the year of the smart accessory. There are plenty of exciting developments in smart clothing - for everything from sports to emotional expression to VR controls but most of this is still at the research/crowdfunding stage and won't be on regular bodies for another year or so.

Read this: High fashion is still afraid to commit to wearable tech

There are a couple of different fashion plays that wearable tech startups and teams can choose from. You can try to build a piece of technology that looks, feels and behaves like a dumb accessory or item of clothing, either going it alone or partnering with fashion companies.

Or you can try to go the Apple Watch route and design well, something new. The middle ground is something like Ringly's smart ring and its new Aries smart bracelets - they look dumb until you feel the vibration or notice the little LED on the side.

The Fossil method

How it's making fashion tech work: Chances are if you encounter a tech fashion accessory this year it will be made by the Fossil Group which plans to launch 100 different wearables by the end of 2016. We saw the latest of these at SXSW and Baselworld and there are a ton of well known brands involved.

Read this: 20 wearables that are more chic than geek

Now, while each of these wearables with have a completely different style and build, what both the Fossil Group wearables and the HP and Movado partnerships have in common is that they take existing tech and modify the design to appeal to existing customers of those big fashion brands.

The most aggressive move so far is probably the fact that Fossil bought Misfit and there's a sense that it's moving from fashion collaborations to more of the Ringly approach (see below).

"We know technology is a major disruptor in many industries right now – even fashion. But to successfully merge the two, we believe you need to have the fashion design expertise and focus on it first," Fossil's chief creative officer, Jill Elliott, told us.

"Since our recent merger with Misfit, Fossil Group is undergoing a complete technology integration, and looking at the way each brand uniquely positions itself to design connected accessories. We see fashion and technology blended seamlessly in the future and see a real possibility when every piece we create has some smart feature included."

So far, aside from some exceptions such as the interesting screen tech on the HP Isaac Mizrahi smartwatch and Fossil's great work with its slick, branded Q app, the story is very much making the style conscious version of existing devices. And there's nothing wrong with that.

What to look for in 2016 and beyond: More Fossil wearables, the Michael Kors Access Android Wear watches plus smart analogue and smartwatches from Armani, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Juicy Couture, Diesel and Kate Spade. Plus the blingy Gear S2 de Grisogono edition and the second collection of Topshop bPay accessories.

The Ringly method

How it's making fashion tech work: The Fossil way isn't always applicable, though, especially for more experimental categories such as smart jewellery and sports wearables. Wearable tech startups such as Ringly are designing the hardware from the ground up to make sure it is the best possible combination of fashion and technology.

And fashion and jewellery companies such as Nixon and Swarovski are considering the design and the features in tandem - making The Mission waterproof as well as having a mic for voice commands, for instance, or Swarovski's solar charging crystals.

Read this: Fashion tech's moment in an MFA Boston exhibition

"You have these tech companies that try to outsource the jewellery design, partner with a jewellery company and something gets lost in translation," Ringly's CEO Christina Mercando d'Avignon told us.

"Or you have your typical fashion company trying to do the technology themselves and it falls short. The secret sauce is being fully integrated because all these different things have to work seamlessly together to make a product that's really magical."

What to look for in 2016 and beyond: Ringly's Aries smart bracelets, Nixon's The Mission Android Wear watch, Vinaya's Altruis modular smart rings and bracelets, more Misfit Swarovski Shine smart jewellery for fall 2016.

The Apple Watch method

How it's making fashion tech work: Love it or hate it, the design of the Apple Watch is as bold as wrist-based wearables get, in that it doesn't mimic a traditional watch entirely but it also doesn't look hideous.

The Apple Watch is in a pretty unique position, too. It has - in Cupertino style - kept the design and build of the smartwatch itself in house but, with third party straps, is allowing the likes of Hermes to collaborate with Italian leather straps. Being Apple, there is no shortage of straps. Then there's the new woven nylon bands signalling that Apple is beginning to act like a fashion company that launches collections of accessories seasonally - like Fossil, like Ringly.

What to look for in 2016 and beyond: More Apple Watch straps and high profile designer collaborations and maybe even an Apple Watch 2 when the time is right for new hardware.

What do you think?

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