The UK could become a world leader in a wearable technology market due to be worth $9.3bn by 2018 if it can leverage its considerable fashion expertise.
Too many technology companies pay only lip service to aesthetics and style, according to the report from Beecham Research, with too much attention focussed on functionality and not enough on image, branding and consumer desires.
In its Wearable Technology report, the technology analysts forecast that the market is currently on course to be worth roughly $3bn by 2018, but a multidisciplinary approach that creates much greater collaboration between the fashion and tech industries could accelerate the market’s growth to $9.3bn by 2018.
According to Saverio Romeo, Beecham’s principal analyst and author of the report, with the UK’s strong position in both the fashion and technology sectors – particularly in Internet of Things applications – the country could take the lion’s share of this emerging market.
“The Golden Triangle of London, Cambridge and Oxford really is in the perfect position to become a leading area in this field,” he said. “The UK at the minute is really in a fantastic position in terms of skills to drive a multidisciplinary approach to wearable technology.”
Beecham estimates there are 13.9 billion connected devices globally in a market worth about $1.8bn, with the majority of value tied up in sports, fitness and wellbeing applications.
But a technology-centric view of the market, where developers focus on functionality without considering branding and aesthetics, means that wearable tech companies are missing out on a sizeable chunk of the consumer market.
Claire Duke-Woolley, fashion technology analyst at Beecham and co-author of the report, says that to truly realise the value of the market these companies need to be able to stand up to the traditional fashion companies on design, before adding value with their technology.
“When Apple introduced the first iPhone it was not the most technologically advanced smartphone at the time, but they did really get the combination of function, style and core branding right,” she said. “When Google launched their glasses you saw a massive outcry form quite a lot of consumers who said, ‘who is going to want to wear this, who is going to want to look like a cyborg?’”
She added: “Consumers don’t just buy technology that’s good for them or because it can do something for them. They don’t like buying things people tell them they need.”
The report highlights recent developments, such as Google’s partnership with designer glass company Luxottica and Apple’s move to hire ex-Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts, as positive examples of how multidiscipline relationships can be forged and signs that industry leaders are beginning to take note.
But it also points out that the greater challenge is for smaller start-ups in the wearable tech space, who need to have input from those in the fashion industry right from the outset if they are to create products that appeal to everyday consumers.
“In this kind of market you can’t be all things to everybody,” said Duke Wooley. “If you are a tech company you really need to partner with someone who understands the design and fashion side of these markets and how to really interact with the consumers."
According to Romeo, the Technology Strategy Board’s Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network is already doing good work on bringing together expertise from the fashion and technology sectors, but more needs to be done to help two very different industries work together.
And the benefits of a more fashion-conscious approach may not only help drive the growth of consumer applications, according to the report, as increased interest in the area could also have an indirect effect on the uptake of the technology in business-to-business applications by increasing its visibility.