Wearables and their future: Four key products that are setting the standard

Almost four years on from the launch of the Nike+ FuelBand, six years from Fitbit’s debut, and seven months into the Apple Watch, the tech industry is still trying to work out exactly what wearables will be, what we’ll use them for (maybe not for answering calls), and where we’ll wear them (maybe not on the wrist). But with a market that’s predicted to grow 64% over the next three years, reaching $25 billion in 2019, next year is lining up to be a big one for innovation. Here are four products already out there that point to the wider future of the category.

1. Jawbone’s Up

Jawbone Up

Fitness bands could become superfluous as smartphones become capable of more nuanced tracking. The ones that survive will do so because they’re both interesting to wear and really useful. This is where the Jawbone Up 3 wins: Yves Behar designed it in a range of colours, a range of textures (very important, usually overlooked) and as a lifestyle accessory. The form is thin enough to feel like a fabric festival band, but it’s also fitted with powerful sensors, including heart rate, GSR and sleep tracking.

Jawbone is very on top of future-proofing: the Up 4 offers contactless payment, and old bands are retro-fitted where possible with auto updates as tech advances. The more a wearable can do, the more useful it becomes. If it looks good enough too, it’s one step closer to being indispensable.

2. Kovert Designs

Kovert Designs

Wearables that try to look like jewellery tend to be criticised; it’s safe to say that no-one has got it completely right yet. Kovert Designs has made a good start though: resembling costume jewellery, the range includes a bracelet, necklace and smart ring that aim to complement your phone’s communications. Reviews so far have been cautiously positive, although the use case isn’t watertight yet.

The company behind Kovert, Vinaya, has $3 million in seed funding, and with a big ambition – it’s not setting out to make wearables specifically, but to make technology more sensitive to human habits – it’s one to watch.

3. Project Jacquard

Google Project Jacquard

Being such a huge category, wearable technology will see a lot of activity beyond bands and watches in 2016. In the spring, Google and Levi’s are set to release the first products from Project Jacquard, the smart textiles range that we’re all excited about because it doesn’t look like smart textiles. Right now, the suggested capabilities – answering a call, taking a photo or controlling your home appliances via your jeans – are not as interesting as the potential. As ever, it’s where it could go next that is tantalising. And next year we’ll start to see where that is.

4. Project Underskin

Project Underskin by NewDealDesign

Gadi Amit’s San Francisco-based studio NewDealDesign came up with this concept, which won’t hit stores any time soon. But if you’re looking for the long-term future of wearables, Project Underskin is where it gets really interesting. After the fitness bands, the smart watches and the jewellery, wearables are likely to disappear completely, supplanted by tech-woven surfaces like Jacquard – but also by embeddables.

Project Underskin proposes that a communication chip be inserted just under the skin in the hand, so that we can unlock doors with a swipe, assign a special alert colour to messages from loved ones, even dabble with some light haptic tech. And while many of us would be wary of embedding technology in our brains, the idea of an implant in the hand might be more palatable – especially if it’s billed, as this one so brilliantly is, as a “living tattoo”.

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