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Plain Jane wearables seek style infusion to drive consumer adoption

With some of the first entries in the wearables category failing to set the world on fire, the next round of devices could feature a stronger fashion sense.

The well-to-do, early-adopters which wearables are targeted at are not just interested in technology for technology?s sake but desires items with the elusive cool factor. A lack of style is part of the reason why some early entries, such as Google Glass, have not caught on and could explain Apple?s $3-million deal for Beats as a stepping stone toward the development of a smart headphone with cache.

?One of the issues with wearables to date has been a lack of aesthetics integrated with utility,? said Tom Edwards, s enior vice president of digital strategy at The Marketing Arm, Dallas, TX.

?The recent acquisition of beats by Apple could merge fashion and utility in future iterations of the product,? he said.

Device interoperability
Apple was able to infuse new life into the smartphone category with the iPhone by bringing a new level of design and ease of use to the category.

With Beats, which has been embraced by style-conscious music aficionados, Apple may be looking to repeat this strategy with a smart headphone that could serve as the basis for a broader wearables strategy.

Since iOS is already so widely used, this could go a long way towards making an Apple wearables strategy viable.

?One other point of consideration is interoperability between devices,? Mr. Edwards said. ?If there are consistent operating systems supporting multi-function devices then you have the foundation for scale to move beyond single purpose devices that are dependent on proprietary systems to report value back to the consumer.

?By streamlining the functions and number of devices, this offers more potential for creating value for wearable consumers,? he said.

Fashion and technology
The Apple Beats deal is just the latest example of the growing connection between fashion and technology, which Apple appears to be spearheading.

For example, last year the technology company hired Angela Ahrendts, who was CEO of luxury fashion brand Burberry, to run its retail business.

Then there is the upcoming inaugural Fashion Tech Forum being held in New York on June 25. The one-day conference was created to address technology?s growing role in retailing as well as the tech communities growing interest in fashion. It includes speakers from Gap, One Kings Lane and Everlane.

While Apple is betting on taking a more fashionable approach to wearables, others are looking at a more health oriented positioning.

For example, Samsung last week said it will introduce a new health platform built around a smart watch with sensors that will store health data in the cloud. Users will be able to view their heart rate and blood pressure in real time.

A healthy approach
Health-oriented wearables have drawn a lot of interest from consumers.

A study by mobile engagement provider Mobiquity Inc. found that 55 percent of today?s mobile health application users plan to introduce wearable devices to their health monitoring over the next few years (see story).

However, such a narrowly defined use case might face a challenge gaining wide adoption.

?One of the issues with wearables to date has been the hyper focus of the devices to highly specialized use cases,? Mr. Edwards said.

?There are so many device-types on the market currently that it can be overwhelming for consumers to select what adds the most value to their daily lives,? he said. ?There needs to be an emphasis similar to the progression of the smartphone that leads to more cross-device usage.?

More use cases for wearables are starting to emerge as well. For example, wearables could interact with connected cars to provide drivers with directions. They could also work with smart home devices to change the room temperature, for example.

While there is a lot of interest in wearables from manufacturers, it is clear that the killer use case for consumers has not been hit upon yet.

?These devices are getting smaller and they require less involvement from the end user, in terms of recharging and getting that data off the device,? said Jonathan Collins , principal analyst at ABI Research, New York. ? All of those things enable a lot of potential applications.

?Further out, as sensors get smaller and cheaper, there can be that level of integration with multiple devices , be that clothing or not,? he said. ?Initially in these early days, it is more about specific devices.

?The real value comes in getting that data off and making that data available to multiple applications or multiple service providers.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York