products: September 2003 Archives

a wearable by any other name...

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This past summer, I4U reported on a jacket being developed by Pioneer. The arm of the jacket has an organic film electro-luminescent (translation: thin and flexible) display.

In a 2001 Taipei Times article, the fashion designer behind the jacket said, "You can't just bring together existing things like a coat and all the machines with adaptors, batteries, and so on ... You have to invent new products..." In another article she said that previous wearable-PC attempts have flopped because "computer engineers focused more on chips than hips." Wanting to move away from the connotations of wearable computers, she has coined the term "media fashion," which I actually haven't heard used anywhere else.

In her Masters thesis, Megan Galbraith from MIT makes a similar distinction between wearable computers and computational garment design. "Computational garment design concerns itself with the aesthetics of garments enhanced by technology or innovative materials with reactive properties. ... Wearable computing, on the other hand, is concerned with the functionality, robustness, and usability of the technology as it inhabits spaces on the body. ... Wearable computers tend to be considered a fashion faux pas."

It seems to me that the differences we currently perceive between engineering and fashion as they relate to wearable computing are just a byproduct of merging these two previously disparate fields. Still, will the terms by which we refer to wearable technology make a difference in the acceptance and adoption of new wearable products? Sounds like a research study in the making...

P.S. A Japanese technology professor in the Taipei Times article compared the idea of merging electronics and fashion with the shift in thinking that happened when people realized that the earth revolved around the sun. Hmmm. A little melodramatic?

- Thanks to Kevin and Micah for the links!

Nokia Imagewear

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Yesterday Gizmodo reported on a new phone design and several photo accessories from Nokia. The accessories include two necklaces to which you can upload digital pictures (from your Nokia camera phone, of course). Both models consist of a steel frame with a 96 x 96 pixel display. The Medallion I has its frame housed in a "daring choker" made of either steel or matte rubber and the Medallion II frame hangs around you neck or wrist from a leather cord.

My friend Kenneth says, "It's crazy and crazy. What I find interesting (among other things) is that their marketing photos show a man wearing the medallions. Do they think it's too gadgety to appeal to women? I wonder how much they will cost, and if fashion magazines will like them or dismiss them as gadgets."

The still photos contrast with Nokia's promo video, which shows women ó not men ó wearing the devices, but I'm guessing the steel frame will likely appeal to a male audience or to males and females who go for an urban look. I'm sure the decision to market them as "medallions" instead of "necklaces" reflects Nokia's own idea of who their target audience will be.

Regardless of whether the initial style appeals to the fashion sense of the masses, these necklaces are an extremely exciting development in wearable design. Expect to see them in late 2003 and early 2004.

- Thanks to Kenneth (yes, I promise to start reading Gizmodo regularly) and Kevin for the links!

speaking of pockets...

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The ScotteVest (actually a jacket that converts to a vest) "allows users to discretely carry multiple electronic devices in the concealed, ergonomically designed pocket system." The jacket/vest has a patent-pending "Personal Area Network", which is just a hidden channel in the fabric through which you snake your headphone wires. (I've seen this feature in other jackets and am kind of surprised that it's patent-pending. I'm also surprised they're calling it a Personal Area Network, as this is a wireless term.)

It says that you can carry "digital cameras, portable keyboards, GPS devices, small laptop computers, two-way radios, bottled water, airplane tickets, magazines, wallets, keys, and much more". I've talked to some people who think pockets are the answer to wearable computing, but I'm not sold. First, I'm sure this jacket/vest weighs at least 73 pounds when loaded with all this gear. Second, a heavy, clunky torso is not exactly a fashion ideal for either men or women.

This product may currently fill a need for gadget heads, but it can't be the long term solution.

small = wearable?

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Today Gizmodo complained about the quality of the new digital camera from Philips. I have a different beef.

Philips bills the device as a "camera key ring" and "wearable digital camera". They have a similarly designed audio player billed as an "audio key ring" and "wearable digital audio". A note on that product page says, "Let's face it. It's all about size and it's how you wear it."

How do you "wear" a key ring? My keys get tossed into my purse or backpack and sometimes go into my pants pocket. So if things that I can put into my pocket qualify as "wearable", then we should add the following items to this category: pens, highlighters, post-it notes, tampons, credit cards, coins, matches, gum, receipts, lipstick... I could go on.

Ok, the devices each come with a necklace strap so that you can wear them around your neck, but come on, people have been wearing cameras on straps around their necks for decades. Granted, the size of the new Philips camera makes this a little easier, but I think describing it as "ready to wear" is pushing the matter.

Wearable devices need to be designed with consideration for the human body, both at rest and in motion. Small does not equal wearable.

- Thanks for the link, Kenneth!

groove bag

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Have an iPod? Want to blast your music out on the street? Concerned about what the local fashionistas might think? Worry no more! Dr. Bott is selling two speaker bags that let you "take your iPod out in Gucci-style".

These incognito boom boxes were featured on style.com a few months ago. "When an accessory lets you flaunt your style, musical taste and tech skills and carry everything you need for the day, you know that form and function haveófinallyófallen in love."

digital bracelet

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This spring I bought a Nike watch. I love its clean design and its translucent black body with lime green accents. I also love that there's a little screen saver-esqe animation that pops up from time to time. But most of all I love how it attaches to my wrist -- two flexible arms reach around and cling to my wrist with soft plastic pads. I justified my purchase by telling myself that the design and new attachment style were important innovations for a 100-year-old wearable device.

I just found out this morning that this watch won a silver medal in the consumer products division of the 2003 Industrial Design Excellence Awards. The Presto Digital Bracelet, as it's called, has "an ergonomic fit that is defined by three points of contact with the wrist and is made of lightweight polymer to provide flexibility and expansion. ... Ergonomic fit and polymer create a watch the user forgets they are wearing." Oh yes.

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This page is a archive of entries in the products category from September 2003.

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