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Party wearable

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Following the lead of Vivienne Westwood, Diane von Furstenberg has teamed up with Samsung to design a fashion phone. It comes with the "girl-about-town" Cityband -- an arm, wrist, or ankle wrap that keeps "your phone and lip gloss handy while you're on the move." What more could a girl want??

Francine and I were discussing Cityband-like ideas when we did our research on the comfort and function of wearables a few years ago. We told our subjects that an armband they tried on was a "party wearable" and that it could hold a key, money, mints, or other necessities (use your imagination) for a night out.

I also saw something similar -- an armband caddy to use while jogging -- a few months ago at a women's store in Pittsburgh. Because of the potential for movement on the arm, it had a fixed (though stretchy) diameter and fit really tightly around my arm. A cool thing about the Cityband is that it wraps around the arm, which, although probably making a little more bulky, means that it will comfortably fit a range of arm and ankle sizes.

And I just can't let it pass without saying that I wore a much less stylish terrycloth version of this product -- sans cell phone of course -- when I was a kid and used to hang out all summer at the local amusement park with my friends. It held a few bucks and my season pass. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that thing.)

- Seen in the November issue of Vogue.

Is that a hair in your coffee?

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I love observing how people "dress" their personal technology: bedazzling cell phones, wrapping ipods, toting laptops in stylish bags.

But how far will this trend go?

Now you can dress your paper coffee cup... XS Couture has designed the Fur Cozie -- a fur, leather, and suede java jacket that will keep you from burning your little paws. "The fur provides a luxurious sensual experience, indicating one's distinguished refinement while enjoying their to-go latte." Hahahahaha! Even more laughable is the $85 price tag.

- seen in Dwell magazine

Adidas has developed a running shoe that senses changes in surface conditions and running style and adjusts the amount of heel cushioning accordingly.

Technology analyst Rob Enderle was quoted in the NY Times, "Of all items of clothing, the shoe is a logical one to be a focus of wearable technology. Unlike articles of clothing that must be washed or cleaned, shoes present a more stable place to add useful electronics."

Washing is one challenge, but designing new interaction techniques for articles of clothing is another. The interface on the Adidas shoe consists of two buttons (one with a "+" and one with a "-") for adjusting the desired cushioning level. The symbols are ambiguous though. Does "+" mean more firm or more cushiony? There's also a row of five tiny LEDs that indicates the current setting. I've found that light patterns aren't always as easy to interpret as designers expect them to be, so hopefully the mapping is straightforward and has been tested with potential wearers.

I'm a little bothered that Adidas is planning on shipping the shoes with a CD-ROM to explain how to use them and change the batteries. Granted, people may initially need some extra help learning how to interact with computerized shoes, but ultimately these types of products need to be designed in a way that doesn't require extensive instructions.

The shoe, called the Adidas 1, is slated to come out in December with a price tag of $250.

Swarovski SMS chandelier

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A few days ago Swarovski announced a high-tech chandelier that accepts SMS messages from your cell phone and displays them on "crystal strands like a luxurious ticker tape".

VP Nadja Swarovski compares the collaboration on this project to the relationships her grandfather once had with fashion designers like Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. "They would ask for a coating that would make material shine like the Northern Lights and back he went to Austria and created it." More recently, the family's crystals showed up in one of Alexander McQueen's collections.

But despite these references to the fashion world, there was no mention in the press release of adapting the chandelier technology for clothing. I have to believe this isn't for a lack of thinking about it... I can only imagine how gorgeous, intriguing and fun this would be on a couture gown.

Nomadic advertising

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When I first saw a picture of people wearing ads displayed on LCDs over their heads, I thought they looked ridiculous. This was partially based on my preference that wearable computing not turn into a vehicle for ubiquitous walking ads. A lot of it had to do with the rest of their outfits, which included large white shoulder harnesses, silver helmets, large orange sunglasses, sleeveless orange jumpsuits and matching wristbands.

But there's another version of this type of "nomadic advertising" that I think is interesting.

The PIXMAN system consists of an LCD suspended over the wearer's head by a pole that's attached to a backpack. This attachment style makes a big difference. There's something extremely goofy-looking about a monitor attached directly to a helmet. But the PIXMAN's LCD-on-a-pole seems more like an alien appendage, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Now I do have to say that the systems look pretty heavy. But they weren't designed to be worn by just anyone. The wearers are professional performers. And the dark urban costumes, whose inspiration seems to be a blend of Magritte, the Matrix and some sort of snowboarder militia, offer an overall look that just oozes cool. A mob of these folks coming down the street must be pretty effective.

So I guess I'm saying that if there's going to be wearable advertising, I'll take mine as performance art.

If you're reading this, then you haven't yet been distracted by the eyeball picture. I applaud you. I also applaud the merging of technology and fashion that resulted in this limited edition phone (only 99 are being made) from Motorola and designer Vivienne Westwood.

This is exactly the type of product I've been waiting for, and I'm extremely excited about the possibilities that this type of partnership may lead to in the future as we move beyond gadgets and on to garments.

***

My interest in wearables is mostly limited to things worn on, not in, the body, but I just couldn't resist including the "JewelEye". God help me if I ever decide to have jewelry implanted in my eyeball, but apparently there's a waiting list of people who are up for it. The procedure takes only 15 minutes (!) and is said to have no side effects. I can only imagine that this will pave the way for more functional eyeball implants such as miniaturized displays. Eeesh.

- Both items via notes from somewhere bizarre, a very cool site.

Reliance Mobile in India has a new watch phone, the Telson TWC 1150. Integrated into the watch are a 256-color LCD, 12-button keypad, 6-button control pad and plug-in camera. There's also an infrared earpiece (hurrah! no wires running up the arm) and a finger-ring receiver (interesting idea, but photos and a description of the ring are suspiciously missing from the product info page).

They've managed to pack all of the watch components into about 3.5 ounces, which is in the range of other current camera phones. This may seem light, but there's a big difference between carrying 3.5 ounces in your pocket and wearing this weight on the end of your arm for an extended period of time. Try it for yourself.

The device, which was "ergonomically designed for the young generation", will be sold in India for $529. Hopefully the youth in India have a lot of disposable income and the desire to look like a cartoon detective!

- via Cellular News

iPod accessories

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The iPod and its smaller sibling, the iPod mini, have designers vying for a chance to dress them up.

Apple's own armband lets you wear the mini on your upper arm. (I have issues with simply strapping a rectangular object to the body, but I'll save that for another post.)

From MARWARE comes the SportSuitô Runabout, also for the iPod mini. This neoprene and terry cloth case is designed to be worn on the wrist. Although the attachment looks sturdy and comfortable, this case suffers from the same problem as the LAKS MP3 player watch does -- a cord reaches from the wrist to the ear.

Borderline wearable, the leather iPod cases from Vaja, which come with an optional belt clip, certainly win the style competition. You can even customize the case by picking from an array of color combinations. The fashionistas who run Daily Candy say, "You wouldn't be caught dead in cheapo nylon. What makes you think your gadget should?"

- Thanks to Haven for the link to MARWARE.


Update on March 17, 2004:
Gucci's now in the game! If you thought the Vaja cases were expensive at $35 - $70, don't choke when you hear that the classically styled Gucci iPod case is $195.


 

LAKS, an Austrian-based watch company has several flash memory watches with USB cables integrated into their straps. They've also got a watch that doubles as an MP3 player. What's amazing and exciting is that LAKS has made an effort to make these watches attractive!

(As an aside, I have to say that I'm a bit leery about the headphones on the MP3 watch. LAKS points out that they're "long enough for tall people"(!), but I can't imagine not being annoyed by a cord that stretches from my wrist to my ear.)

Unfortunately, LAKS has totally missed their mark with their Baby Boom watch. Intended for use before, during and after pregnancy, this watch calculates a female's fertile days, indicates the current week of pregnancy and the baby's expected due date, estimates when the baby's heart starts beating, proposes 5000 baby names, saves lab values from your baby's doctor visits, and more. Assuming for a moment that all of these functions are really necessary on a watch, I would imagine that the design would be comparable to that of other watches in their Ladies collection. Ah no. Even in light gray, the Baby Boom watch looks like it was designed for a male triathlete. I have no doubt that males want to share in the joy of expected childbirth, but given the very female-oriented nature of this watch, the design is simply inconsiderate and wrong.

- Thanks to Jonny for showing me the Baby Boom watch

watches to watch

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Microsoft's MSN Direct service lets you get weather, stock prices, personal messages, appointment reminders, etc. on your watch. When I heard that Microsoft was teaming up with watch companies like Fossil on this project, I was hopeful that the watch designs might break the normal geek mold for techno gadgets like these, but the geek mold prevailed. Both the Microsoft and Fossil sites show pictures of attractive, rounded displays with a blue background and transparent plastic frame, but the watches for sale are limited to square gray displays with manly black wrist straps. And although style is a primary concern, the size of these watches is also prohibitive to anyone with small wrists (read: women).

When I see devices like this, I wonder if companies realize that they're alienating women and those who care about style, or if they just don't care. I understand that there are technical and financial considerations that product teams need to worry about, but I'd think they'd find their target markets increasing if more design options were available.

In any event, I think the watch is a natural fit for integration with the type of functionality that Microsoft is offering. The watch has been fully adopted by our culture and accepted into our personal body space -- other wearable devices will have to overcome these social and physical hurdles. Hopefully Microsoft has some other partners and design plans up their sleeves.

On the topic of watches, a couple of interesting companies, who obviously take themselves a little less seriously than Microsoft does, include:

Pimp Watches: The Trip the Light Fantastic tells time via 72 red, green and yellow LEDs. The photos on their site are hysterical, showing the watch next to cigars and other pimp-lifestyle accessories. (If you're offended by anime characters with large breasts, you may want to give the site a miss.)

OVO: The Decision Maker "is equipped with several functions that can point you in the right direction or make decisions for you." That is, it has the same functionality as your Magic 8 Ball. Very fun design.

- Thanks to Jordon for pointing me to Pimp Watches, via Cool Hunting.

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