Wearables are a strong category at CES 2016 with dozens of new products debuting this week. As manufacturers scramble to stand out from the pack, more fashion-forward items are included in the tech lineup.
Wearables will continue to be a strong category in 2016, and the Consumer Technology Association predicts that 38 million wearables will be sold this year, with smartwatches and fitness trackers making up the bulk of the sales. Fitness trackers are expected to grow 12% this year and bring in $1.2 billion in revenue, while smartwatches are slated to increase 22% compared to last year, and result in $3.7 billion in revenue.
As so many devices hit the market, with each offering somewhat similar basic tracking components, it takes a fashionable twist to make a product stand out. And in some instances, disappear. Embedded sensors are being hidden in items such as jackets, vests, shoes and jewelry.
A truly fashion-conscious consumer doesn't always want everyone to know that they're wearing a tech item, since that is a fashion statement in itself.
Fitness trackers and smartwatches
Well-known athletic brand Under Armour made a splash at CES with its new digital tracking devices and bringing famous athletes such as Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo and Olympian Michael Phelps onstage to promote the products. It launched the UA HealthBox, which will retail for $400, and is billed as a connected fitness system. It includes a fitness band, a smart scale and a heartrate monitor.
The brand also offers a pair of stylish connected shoes that use a chip to calculate distance, pace and cadence. It will also learn your stride length so that it can better judge distances without the use of GPS.
Misfit continues to be a strong contender in the fashion category, particularly with its ongoing partnership with Swarovski to produce jewelry with unobtrusive fitness trackers. Misfit's newest release, the Ray, has a minimalist appeal.
Fossil continues to develop sleek fitness trackers and smartwatches that look like traditional watches for those who want a classic style.
And Martian has downsized its fashionable smartwatch to better fit the wrists of its female clientele. Martian also paired with Indian jeweler PCJ to produce a line of prototype fitness trackers that simply look like beautiful bracelets with the wearable device hidden from sight.
Wisewear teamed up with designer Iris Apfel to produce a $395 connected bracelet available plated in 18-karat gold or palladium that tracks fitness and also serves as an emergency messaging system if needed. The company suggests that it's ideal for seniors who don't want to wear an unattractive life alert button, or for women who want a way to call for help. By tapping the front of the bracelet in a customized touch pattern, the wearer can send their location and a text message to a pre-loaded list of emergency contacts.
Mira has also produced a line of smart jewelry that serves as a fitness tracker, monitoring steps, elevation, distance and calories. And Withings came out with the whimsical and colorful Go, which is a low-energy tracking device that uses e-Ink to allow it to be in continuous use for up to 8 months without a battery replacement.
Fitbit released its newest device, the Blaze, to mixed reviews. The smartwatch was feared by critics to be too similar to the Apple Watch, without enough to differentiate it from the pack. Early complaints have caused Fitbit's stock to drop nearly 30% since the Blaze was announced on January 5. This loss shows the impact that an unappealing product can have on a company's bottom line. Fitbit previously partnered with fashion designer Tory Burch to create appealing jewelry to house its tracking devices, and while that partnership continues, no new Tory Burch-branded products were released at CES.
And even Southern Telecom has gotten into the fashion game with a line of stylish tech accessories and smart bracelets designed by high-end designer Catherine Malandrino. That line debuted last year, and has proven so popular that the company has paired up with Limited Too to produce a line of colorful tech accessories for tweens and the youth market. That line premiered at CES.
Clothing with added tech
Samsung debuted a line of clothing and accessories at CES. The line includes workout clothes with embedded sensors, a purse with solar charging panels, a suit for men with NFC in the wrist, a men's belt, and a men's golf shirt.
The Smart Suit is already on sale in Korea for about $500 US, and the solar purse, known as the SolBag, is expected to go on sale during the second quarter of 2016. The smart belt, known as the Welt, works with an app to tell you how many steps you've taken, how long you've been sitting, your eating habits and waist size. The golf shirt also offers NFC to unlock a phone or allow the wearer to trade digital business cards with someone, and it also works with an app to alert the wearer to the weather or the UV rating. The workout clothing, the Body Compass 2.0, has six different types of sensors to track heart rate, respiration and body fat.
Sensoria has a line of fitness clothing that has embedded sensors. The biometric suit contains sensors that allow data to be seen through smart sports eyewear or on a smartwatch. Users can get real-time feedback from biometrics such as body temperature, stress and fatigue levels, muscle activation and center of balance. Socks, athletic shirts and workout pants are also available.
Los Angeles designer Jeremy Wall, founder of Lumenus, designed wearable tech and smart clothing with LED lighting that he debuted at CES. The result is sleek performance clothing, including jackets, backpacks, vests and pants, that make a pedestrian, runner or cyclist more visible to oncoming traffic. The clothing contains integrated Bluetooth to connect with an app to activate turn signals and brake lights for the user once they've inputted their destination.
Fashion is clearly an important component of the wearable tech category. Whether customers choose to opt for invisible embedded sensors, or to wear a prominent smartwatch or bracelet, the appearance of the device does matter. And manufacturers are determined to differentiate themselves from their competitors and get their share of that $4.9 billion market for wearables in 2016.
Teena Maddox is a Senior Editor at TechRepublic. She's an award-winning journalist and specializes in business and lifestyle features. She has also worked at People magazine, W magazine and Women's Wear Daily.