Wearabletech Revisited (a novel): clothes themselves will be the new social medium

Last week my baby Mobile Pop Princess turned one year old.

The milestone served as a friendly reminder to breathe a little air back in to the baby, and I thought what better way to pay homage than to revisit its very first topic: tech-integrated clothing. Although but only twelve months and four seasons have since come and gone (yes, that one day of Spring in the 514 counts as a season), the convergence of fashion and technology has evolved by leaps and bounds.

Welcome the new buzzword, to those already familiar with the terms “smart phones” and “smart cars”: smart clothes.

Other acceptable terms include but are not limited to: Intelligent Clothing, Wearable Tech, Wearable Electronics, Tech Togs, Fashion Electronics, E-Textiles, etc. etc. you catch the drift. According to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge, wearable technologies are defined as “clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies. The designs often incorporate practical functions and features as well as making a statement or establishing a technological look.” In layman’s terms, it has sleeves and does awesome things.

The concept itself is not new per se. Everyone remembers when Nike introduced the Nike+iPod running shoe 5 years ago. A novelty at the time, it enabled users to track distance traveled and calories burned through the shoe and display stats on an iPod’s screen or broadcast them through the headphones. Today, the product is very much still alive and well, having adapted to new technologies such as GPS and posting results to Facebook or Twitter.

The most obvious use case for these types of functional clothing is athlete’s wear. Real-time stats such as heart rate, blood glucose levels, and altitude are key for athletes to monitor. Zeal Optics’s Transcend for example is a GPS-enabled performance measuring goggles which tracks speed, altitude and temperature in real time. Interesting for sports aficionados, but not so much for me.

But now this textile trend is embroidering itself into a plethora of other more “fun” verticals with products ranging from belts with programmable messages to fibre-optic skirts and Twitter dresses.

Imogen Heap and the Twitter Dress

Yep, during last year’s Grammy Awards, Imogen Heap totted the “Twitter dress”, which was basically an oversized necklace studded with flashing lights displaying her fan’s latest tweets. It operated thanks to a router inside her gown. Katy Perry also attended the MET Ball last year with her famous LED dress.

The company who designed that dress, CuteCircuit is a full-on wearable technology company and holds a line of amazing products including the Disc Leggings, the Star Scarf, and Hug Shirt. The Hug Shirt is a shirt (surprise) that creates the physical sensation of being hugged over distance through your mobile phone, i.e. you can send hugs over SMS.

Hug Shirt

They also have the M-Dress, a regular old silk jersey dress which holds a SIM card allowing the wearer to receive and make calls by holding the sleeve to your mouth. However, my favorite piece in their collection is the Kinetic Dress, which changes color and pattern depending on the activity of the wearer. It. looks. so. cool.

Kinetic Dress

Fashion designers from all over the world are incorporating tech elements into textiles to give clothes a modern edge. Electronics aside, clothes themselves are becoming the new social medium. Check out this Facebook-connected garment which, amongst many other things, “taps” the wearer on the shoulder when a Facebook friend sends a comment or message. (I wonder if it also *pokes*?)

Fashion is a key part of identity and personal expression. Mobile devices and social media are a key part of identity and personal expression. It makes sense then that the two will continue to weave closer and closer together. I really think this trend will hit the mainstream in a big way very soon.

It doesn’t replace the phone – it just means you’ll be able to access data and perform certain functions in a whole new way. Communication and social interactions will become – wait for it – a seamless experience.

The mobile phone is not the be all and end all; it’s just one tool amongst many. One tool that will start interacting with things it could not previously interact with, such as clothes. Imagine telling your sweater automatically warming up a few degrees when the temperature starts dropping at night (Google Weather API?).

We’ve certainly come a long way from Pocket Tweets, which was something that was created as part of an art exhibit for the Wearable Technology AIR project in spring 2009. It displayed your latest tweets on your jacket pocket; and by “displayed” I mean literally showing a Java app on the phone’s screen through a speech-bubble shaped hole that was cut on the pocket.

Pocket Tweets

This could be a new potential opportunity for advertisers by rewarding fans for displaying real-time and interactive brand messages on their clothing. We do it already in a static way and at no extra value for the customer. Instead of a simple Gap logo, why not display a 25% off promotion for the Gap retail store that’s across the street. Or every time someone says the words “I love your dress where did you get it?“, the dress will transfer the information to the person inquiring.

With that being said, I look forward to June 2012′s follow-up on this topic. I may or may not be blogging directly from a pair of overalls.

On a small aside, a little airwave of emotion came over me a few weeks ago when I received my domain renewal email for mobilepopprincess.com. In an age where things are changing so quickly, where I need to spend a couple of hours daily soaking in Twitter just to keep up with industry trends, and where one could say that change itself is the major trend, it’s good to know that one can at least maintain something for 365 days.

This little thing I do here is just a tiny spec of dust which floats around the blogosphere going mostly unnoticed.  However, considering that this blog was conceived out of pure boredom one day while hungover in bed, it has had a significant impact on my life. Not only did it steel the hearts of a few admirers and teach me basic HTML, but it was actually this blog that triggered a sequence of strange events that led me to my current job which I love. (Thank you!)

I may not have the same smartphone, job or hair hue as I did this time last year – but I still as hell have my domain name. So bring on the M-Fashion and Twitter-kinis.

Which begs the question: how does laundry work with those things?

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