Are smart clothes the future of wearables?

Unfortunately, I can't get "wearable wearables" to stick

There’s a trend in wearables towards becoming invisible. The majority of current fitness trackers are wristbands, and in the beginning most were ugly because features were the main priority. Now that most trackers offer similar features, users are more concerned with their appearance. The latest – like the Misfit Ray – are very stylish, either aiming for subtlety or to make a statement, but hiding the tech is a problem for all types of wearable device. The most popular smartwatches have round faces, appearing to be ordinary watches at first glance. So what’s the next step in hiding wearable tech? Well… by wearing it.

Smart clothing moves tech from the wrist and into the very clothing we wear. In 2013, Hexoskin released the first biometric smart shirt, capable of recording your movement, heart-rate, and respiration. The shirt could send this biometric data to an app so you could track fitness without wearing anything else besides the shirt (and preferably some pants). Its recent upgrade, the Hexoskin Smart, features Bluetooth Smart allowing connection with compatible devices such as tablets, smartphones, GPS devices and bike computers. The shirt now integrates seamlessly with apps such as Strava, Runkeeper, and Endomondo.

The ultimate wearable would be something that’s practically invisible and something that you wear all the time anyway. For example, OMsignal has created the OMbra, a sports bra for women that has much of the same functionality as the original Hexoskin. The bra tracks heart-rate, respiration and movement, and records this data in a small device attached to the lower band. The device only works with the dedicated app, though, unlike the new Hexoskin Smart. OMsignal also sell smart shirts and trousers.

Image © OMsignal

I play a lot of sports and I’m a tech geek, so naturally I’ve used trackers for all sorts of sports. Most cyclists use GPS devices and heart-rate monitors and I’m no different. However, I also play sports that aren’t as integrated with technology. The first tech I used during football was the Adidas miCoach, which was a fitness tracker embedded in Adidas trainers or football boots. Steps were recorded during a match and could be uploaded to the website and app later for analysis. Nike offered a similar product for runners called Nike+.

Image © Adidas

It’s interesting that shoes were among the earliest smart clothes but haven’t come to dominate fitness trackers. Companies like Lechal look to change that by reinventing the smart shoe. Their smart insoles disappear into any pair of trainers you already wear. They do all the regular business that a fitness tracker needs to do such as counting steps, but they also vibrate to let you know you’ve left your phone behind. If you’re navigating using an app on your phone, the shoes can vibrate in the left or right sole to tell you which direction to turn. The integration of shoes and tech may have another advantage. German engineers at HSG-IMIT are working on in-shoe devices that harness the energy of your footsteps to power wearables or even charge your smartphone as you walk.

Image © Lechal

We’re currently swimming in fitness trackers and it seems a new one is announced every day. Almost all of them are wristbands but they’re obviously evolving to become less visible. Smart clothes seem to be the obvious answer for fitness trackers that are kept out of the way and don’t cramp your style. Well, at least until we just implant the trackers directly into our bodies.