Wait, When Did Wearable Tech Stop Being Geeky?

A lot of people are skeptical about wearable tech because it’s not geeky enough. There is a belief that the new technologies must open up fields like robotics to gain mainstream acceptance, but this isn’t necessarily true. Wearable tech did get more fashionable in 2017 with high-end fashion brands jumping on board and experimenting with different designs. Nonetheless, most will remain niche until the technology becomes ubiquitous across all walks of life.

“Wearable technology” is a term that’s been around for quite some time now. However, it seems like these days it has lost its “geeky” label.

RAY-BAN’S Stories glasses include Facebook technology and can capture video hands-free. They can also react to simple instructions and play music via ear speakers. Sadly, “Hey Facebook, create this article” did not work. But here’s what makes them stand out: They just resemble spectacles. Stories Wayfarers, which were released last month, are just five grams heavier than analog Wayfarers, and if it weren’t for a small white light that flashes while you’re filming, they look exactly like the original Wayfarers, which were worn by Muhammad Ali, Madonna, and many others.


What kind of technology do you have on? Participate in the discussion below.

The normality of Ray-digital Ban’s frames is what makes them unique. Google’s $1,500 Glass, which made the user appear like a Silicon Valley cyborg, was ridiculed into obsolescence when it was introduced in 2013. Although glass is still available, have you seen anybody wearing it recently? The $130 Spectacles from Snap, a Gen-Z favorite social media app, didn’t fare much better in 2016, with conspicuous yellow-outlined cameras on each side.

Ray-Stories Ban’s sunglasses are part of a new breed of wearable items that emphasize beauty above functionality. Take, for example, the $400 ring from Oura, a Finnish health business. The second version of this sleep-tracking gadget, released in 2018, is so little that it might pass for a gold ornament. Whoop, a Boston-based wearables company, launched the fourth generation of its screenless activity-tracking bracelet last month, which is 33% smaller than the previous version. (Subscriptions start at $324 for 18 months and include a band.) Prada collaborated with American Express earlier this year to offer the most high-design idea yet: a sleek, silver-buckled black leather bracelet with a contactless payment chip placed within. Centurion cardholders are the only ones who can get it.


EYES THAT ARE NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC They may seem to be ordinary shades, but Stories, as shown on a model, are equipped with Facebook technology and can capture video and react to instructions invisibly. Ray-ban.com has sunglasses starting at $299.

Ray-Ban sunglasses

Apple Watch Changes the Game

The current wearables craze began in the late 2000s, with an avalanche of gadgets that could track your steps and calculate your energy consumption. These blocky alternatives, such as the Fitbit and Nike+ FuelBand, coiled around the wrist like a rubbery black snake and featured frantic, pixelated screens that looked like calculators from the 1980s.

According to Elizabeth Wissinger, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York who researches wearable technology, its “clunkiness” was an issue. Only 4% of Americans desired a wearable gadget, according to a 2013 Forrester Research study headlined “Fitness Wearables—Many Products, Few Customers.” “In the end,” Ms. Wissinger said, “nobody wanted to go around blinking.”

When Apple launched its first Apple Watch in 2015, the environment shifted. The entry into wearables by Apple, the high-design tech temple that Steve Jobs created, confirmed the market. With curved corners, a shiny square display, and adjustable bands, including a much-hyped leather version from French luxury house Hermés, the watch looked stunning. Wearable technology was portrayed as stylish, not just useful, with the Apple Watch.

With the success of the Apple Watch, seeing a wearable on someone’s wrist is no longer unusual. At a recent meeting, Jeff Staple, a New York fashion designer, observed that all ten of the other participants were wearing some kind of wrist wearable. He said, “These are individuals who presumably have Rolexes and Pateks in their closets.” “However, they’re gathering dust because the information [wearables provide] is simply too valuable.”


OH MY GOD, IT’S THERE! Francis Ahrens, a college recruiter, uses his Whoop band to monitor personal statistics in order to enhance his sleep, exercises, and other activities. Subscriptions to the band, which include all devices, start at $324 for 18 months at whoop.com.

Martin Romero (photo)

The King of Data

This onslaught of heart-rate monitors and calorie counters has coincided with a contemporary health renaissance. Consider how many times in recent years you’ve been told to drink eight glasses of water or walk 10,000 steps each day. “People, in general, [want] to better their health if they are directed in the correct way,” Will Ahmed, CEO of Whoop, stated. Mr. Ahmed, a former collegiate squash player, originally concentrated on elite athletes when he started Whoop in 2012, but he’s since discovered that ordinary folks are just as interested in their health statistics. Nearly all of Whoop’s users are non-professionals who want to know how well they’re recuperating after a run or how much they hurt themselves riding the day before.

But it’s the quality of sleep, not the amount of activity data, that may be the most compelling reason to get a wearable. Zzzs zealots like Arianna Huffington are always reminding us that getting a good night’s sleep is critical to our health. In light of this, virtually every gadget on the market now has sleep monitoring capabilities. Few do it as well as Oura’s ring, which monitors your resting heart rate, skin temperature fluctuation, and sleep hours and presents the data through a phone app. One way it may help you sleep better? You may alter your bedtime if the ring says you’re only getting three hours of deep sleep. If your privacy is important to you, be aware that Oura, Whoop, and other wearables businesses monitor your personal data. Of course, the deluge of data may be overwhelming. Jennifer Aniston revealed the glittering band on her middle finger during a recent interview on ” Jimmy Kimmel Live,” saying, “This is destroying my life because I’m so fascinated with the Oura ring and looking at my sleep patterns and how poorly I sleep and it shames me every day.” She still hadn’t removed the ring. “I’m hooked,” she said to the presenter.

Minimalism Is Important

No matter how appealing the data on a wearable is, it must be something you want to wear all the time. Many designs in the past have fallen short of this goal. When Harpreet Singh Rai, the CEO of Oura, joined the business in 2017, the most common complaint he received from customers was that the original ring—which looked like a well-fed bug on your finger—was too big. People want a discreet gadget that they could wear every day. Oura’s second model was shrunk to “blend perfectly in, so you can wear it with a suit, you can wear it with a T-shirt,” according to the firm.

This objective has been met for some users. Martin Romero, 32, a photojournalist in New York, stated, “I can wear it without proclaiming to the world that I do CrossFit.” He’d recently spent a few days shooting people outside New York fashion week events and said he never took the ring off, despite the fact that it reminded him that he was working too much and sleeping too little. “It’s the most stylish, wearable item on the market,” she says.


ADD A RING TO IT Oura’s bauble, shown on photographer Martin Romero above, keeps track of statistics such as resting heart rate and sleep hours. Ouraring.com has rings starting at $299.

Martin Romero (photo)

Wrist-bound wearables like Whoop take up more physical space, but they come with various bands for a unique look. “You can switch up the bands to fit whatever you’re wearing,” Francis Ahrens, a 28-year-old university recruiter in Dallas, said. Over 60 various bands for the gadget are available from Whoop, ranging from brown vegan leather to bright fluorescent yellow. Mr. Ahrens wears gray and black bands alternately, although both are “quite unobtrusive,” according to him.

The Whoop 4.0 becomes even more unobtrusive. It may be completely detached from the strap and worn in suitable T-shirts, bras, and undergarments. At this time, on-body monitoring may provide different results than wearing a Whoop on your wrist.

Privacy issues have been raised as a result of the incognito nature of certain modern technology, especially the Stories. In her review of Stories for the Wall Street Journal, Joanna Stern observed that the little indication light was insufficient for individuals to realize that they were being recorded, even in well-lit outdoor settings. The product’s recording indication light, according to Rocco Basilico, chief wearables officer at Luxottica, Ray-parent Ban’s business, is “more than what cellphones do.”

Fashion in the Foreground

Some data addicts don’t want their wearables to be seen. Some believers I spoke with said they like it when others can see the gadget and wonder, “Hey, what is that?” Mr. Staple often inquires whether a large gold ring on someone’s finger is an Oura. He’s not always correct, but when he is, it sparks a discussion between two sleep-tracking addicts.

Technology, especially anything new and unusual, may be a status symbol, similar to a Cartier watch or a pair of Gucci shoes. On Instagram, some individuals who had bought Ray-Ban Stories were uploading euphoric selfies of themselves wearing the sunglasses, rather than films or pictures shot using the shades. Mr. Singh Rai of Oura said he’d spoken to fashion companies about partnering (but wouldn’t say which ones) and that those brands may desire a larger, blingier ring.

In 2021, a successful wearable would not seem like something out of a Star Trek episode, but rather like something you’d find on the Nordstrom sales floor. Take Prada’s elegant American Express bracelet, for example. While the technology is impressive, the device’s real worth may lie in the responses you get when you flash it to pay for your next coffee.

The Wall Street Journal is not paid by the stores mentioned as product sources in its stories. Listed stores aren’t always the only places to shop.

Jacob Gallagher can be reached at [email protected].

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