And a few thoughts on where wearables are headed
“Everyone in this room has functionality figured out,” said Robyn Sills, brand experience manager for the Fossil Group, while walking me through the company’s latest wearable devices. “But do they have the design?”
Hiking around the behemoth Consumer Electronics Show 2016 (CES) in Las Vegas last week—where wearables shared floor space with space-age vacuums, droids, and even a smart rubber ducky—the answer to that question was a resounding “sometimes.”
There were certainly some well-designed devices on the floor—Martian, Fossil, Misfit, Fitbit, TAG Heuer, and Nevo all debuted elegant new products that could potentially speak to the fashion consumer. But rubberized fitness/athletic trackers dominated, and many times they weren’t even anchored to a bracelet or necklace. Withings, for example, has gone from designing one of the most refined wearables ever created (the Swiss-made Activité watch) to manufacturing round, candy-colored plastic fitness trackers meant to clip on to your running shorts. The Activité is still available, but the company is following the predominant trend in wearables: health and fitness.
It’s important to remember that CES is not a trade show focused on fashion and style, so it is probably not attractive to many developers creating jewelry-focused wearables. But the big-name wearables companies on the floor, including Fitbit and Garmin, seem to be covering their bases by offering one (or maybe two) fashion-focused wearables along with a zillion fitness-focused doodads.
Considering how cautious consumers have been about purchasing wearables so far, that’s probably smart. Many of us are still wondering if we actually need a wearable—when a smartphone and a pedometer work just fine. But as a culture, we take our health and fitness seriously, and need help with both. And voilà, a new tech niche is born.
Of course, all new technology takes time to gain a foothold on the mass level—and the success of the Apple Watch speaks to a future of wired arms, fingers, clavicles, and (maybe?) earlobes. “We can now say that the market exists,” Guy Semon, general director of TAG Heuer, told me at a party for the brand’s Connected watch at CES. “And this we were unsure of before.”
Here are a few new devices, fresh of the CES floor, pushing the category forward.
I love the sleek, simple design of this new sleep-and-activity tracker, which retails for $99 with a rubber wristband and $119 with a leather bracelet. “We’re really leaning into the fashion space,” said Sarah White, content strategist for Misfit. Ray, she added, “really looks appropriate with anything you’d want to wear.” Billed as “your most valuable accessory” it can also be strung on a long necklace chain, which looks super sophisticated. Through the Misfit app, the device can be programmed to subtly light up when a call/text/email comes through.
At $1,500, it’s one of the most expensive smartwatches out there—but it may be worth it. Intel and Google partnered with the brand on the handsome Connected watch, which is an Android-only model. And buyers can, after two years, trade in the watch for an analog TAG Heuer model, after paying another $1,500—turning the high-tech device into a kind of down payment on a timepiece that will never age out.
Fossil Group was by far the biggest presenter of fashion-focused wearables at CES. The company, which acquired seminal wearables company Misfit in November 2015, is going all in with smart devices—it plans to release more than 100 new wearables this year alone between its Fossil Q and Misfit brands. The smart styles at CES were all well priced and good-looking, but I was most taken with the latest iterations of the Fossil Q Dreamer—done up in pearly white and tortoise-print plastic, anchored to a slim leather strap. The notifier bands, which are a modern riff on the classic ID bracelet and retail for around $125, can be changed up with different color leather bands, priced at $25 each. “Being connected and having personal style—these things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive,” noted Sills. Amen.
Irvine, Calif.–based Martian showed a great range of wearables steeped in classic analog watch design, including the new Kindred—a slim, streamlined notifier watch for women that was among the only “dressy” styles seen at the show (I loved the white leather strap with the rose gold bezel, in particular). The watch (starting at $125) boasts an unobtrusive notifier light for when calls/texts come in and can also be programmed through its companion app to vibrate in specific patterns to alert the user to specific contacts. “Our customer base was wanting a smaller, more feminine design,” said Tabitha Bailey, media relations manager for Martian. They also wanted a longer battery life—and the Kindred can run up to three weeks on a single battery charge. (Note: Martian is also partnering with retailers to create their own wearables—and is looking for more partners.) India’s PC Jeweller was present in the Martian booth, showing elaborate gold-and-diamond ID-style bracelets that encased a Martian wearable.
Fashion jewelry retailer debuted a collection of pretty, vintage-feeling jewelry cases for the Misfit Shine device exclusively for Target last November. The new ones (pictured here), which will unfortunately still be exclusive to Target, are even more stunning. And they’re a testament to how successful partnerships between tech companies and jewelry brands can be. Here’s hoping this trend picks up speed.
(Photos, from top: Misfit Ray and TAG Heuer Connected images courtesy of the brands; remaining photos by Emili Vesilind)