Pin It
biostamp IC10
The biostamp from IC10, which Motorola is developing as a replacement for passwords

Why wearable tech sucks so hard

According to SXSW speaker and Third Wave Fashion founder Liza Kindred, at least

When was the last time you wore some wearable tech? (Duct taping your iPhone to your wrist and calling it an Apple Watch as a joke doesn't count.) I'm willing to bet that aside from a brief flirtation with a Fitbit or a fitness tracker, you probably don't have one in your life. And there's a reason for that. According to Third Wave Fashion founder and technologist Liza Kindred, it's because most devices suck hard. They are, in her words, "ugly unwearable wearables".

"So much of what we're seeing is super meh," she said at a South by Southwest talk during the weekend. "One of the things we're seeing is awful rubber bracelets and are really in our junk drawers. One of the other tropes I see is 'slap a screen on it'. I've seen screens on hats, belts, wrists."

Kindred has been calling bullshit on the industry since 2011, when she first set up Third Wave Fashion as a global tech/fashion think tank, so she knows what she's talking about. But wearable tech hype was everywhere at SXSW. One speaker at a SXstyle panel, Billie Whitehouse of Wearable Experiments, even modelled a smart jacket that linked up to Google Maps and tapped you on the shoulder every time you needed to make a left or right turn. (When I told someone about it, they said: "So what happens if you make a wrong turn – does it just squeeze you until you go in the right direction?")

We're quick to know instinctively when things go wrong in wearable tech: when objects look clunky, awkward or just make you look like an arsehole (or a Glasshole, as the case may be). Even when high-profile publications like Vogue get behind the trend – as it did in this Steven Klein editorial with Google Glass – it can often feel hamfisted or gauche. Read: the opposite of the future.

That doesn't mean that wearable technology will be a bust. After all, the hype around the Apple Watch isn't dying any time soon. But it does mean that we need to start thinking about how this kind of tech will sit in our lives. Will they be ostentatious, showy objects like Glass? Will we all end up wearing smart jackets with in-built Twitter feeds, not unlike Ralph Lauren's new sports shirt which monitors your heartbeat and stress levels?

"The future has never looked like this," Kindred said. "The future is going to look like right now. Very few of us want to look like robots. The market for people who want to look like androids or cyborgs exists, but it's very limited."

"In order for wearables to be widely adopted, the technology has to disappear. it was to function quietly in the background. The most beautiful wearables disappear." 

Those making their mark right now? Motorola is currently developing biostamp technology, a stamp-sized circuit which sticks onto your skin like a fake tattoo and replaces the need for passwords, helping you to do things like unlock your phone. There's one current wearable tech that also gets Kindred's thumbs up – the EnChroma sunglasses, which use special lenses to colour-correct the vision of colour-blind people.

In short, the tech of the future will mean quiet discretion and class. That means no thanks to will.i.am's suspiciously familiar looking smartwatch, no to Google Glass "for your ears" and definitely no to wristbands that tell DJs if their audience members are having fun. We're down for that.