Intel VP: Wearable tech is all fitness, fitness, fitness - that needs to change

Ayse Ildeniz tells us that wearables need to do more than track sports
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It's two days after HTC launched its first wearable, the Grip smartband, in partnership with Under Armour, and a week before the health obsessed and heart rate tracking Apple Watch has its latest event.

And Ayse Ildeniz isn't happy.

Speaking to Wareable at MWC 2015, Intel's VP of New Devices wished she had seen a wider variety of uses for wearables at the show in Barcelona.

"I wish it would go faster," she said. "It's all fitness, fitness, fitness, do everything, do everything, do everything. There is not enough specialisation and expertise around other usage models - that's what we were hoping would take off here.

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"For the moment, there's a couple of uses which involve sports, you need to measure what your body is doing. It's interesting but it doesn't even coach you, it doesn't push you towards other behaviours which I hope will change."

Part of the reason for this, Ildeniz believes, is that mainstream tech companies try to offer us a million things to do in one device - a trend Intel hopes to reverse when its affordable, button-sized Curie module, for makers, tinkerers and startups, comes out in the second half of 2015.

"Things will take off slowly with the larger population rather than five top companies trying to provide everything you need in life," she explained.

"Ultimately we need to drive small enough, cheap enough modular based systems that any designer can take and embed into their new trend, design of the year or the season for that matter. Today building a wearable or a technology part is very expensive and it relies on entirely economics of volume which is done on millions of standardisation."

Tech is a foreign word


That's a problem for a fashion industry vying to create bespoke, individual, personal pieces but interested in incorporating wearable tech. Ildeniz says tech has to "get over its aesthetics problem" and fashion has to move faster and work to understand, for instance, why the Opening Ceremony MICA couldn't have been made out of metal.

"Our buddies at Opening Ceremony sent us these designs and the bracelet was entirely made from metal. Our engineers had a heart attack. They said, 'No radio will work, forget about it, no metal.' So I had to go back to them."

It's not just a case of designers not being au fait with tech requirements, some of them are running scared. Until that is, they see something pretty that works.

"We were just at Fashion Week last week in New York City," said Ildeniz. "We had a wonderful dinner with Steven Kolb who is the Council of Fashion Designers of America's CEO. And Steven had brought all these designers. They said: 'Oh, technology, OK'. It's like a foreign word to them and it's difficult.

"But then we show this - the MICA - and they say, 'Oh I can see my stuff having technology in it'. So I think it's a journey, we just need to get closer to each other."

Ultimately, Intel wants to democratise building wearables so it's not all about fitness or all about do-everything smartwatches.

"You have to cater to a wider range of people," she said. "You need to be able to enrich somebody's life in India, you need to make a difference to someone's life in rural China and somebody who lives in San Francisco like me."

We'll be keeping an eye on Curie and what the world makes of it later this year. Look out for Intel's new wearable tech module at the second Make it Wearable competition, which we're expecting to hear more details about at some point in 2015.

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How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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