A fashion makeover for wearable technology

A couple years ago, Ben Davis was flying home from Christmas with his family and came across an early version of a smart watch in the SkyMall catalogue. He was intrigued by the bluetooth connection that allowed the watch to receive calls, but the men’s version was too traditional. It looked like any other watch.

“The ladies version was kind of a far-out, kind of spacey bangle,” says Davis, an art critic in New York. “You couldn’t tell exactly what it was when you looked at it.”

So he bought it. Like the Prius owner who wants people to know they’re driving a hybrid, Davis wanted people to see and talk about his cool new toy — and he says it worked. He used to demo the watch at parties.

As tech companies build up hope that “wearables” – smart watches, fitness trackers, and the much-hyped Google Glass – will become an integral part of consumers’ everyday lives, they’re realizing the devices are in need of a makeover.

“If you’re not a techie or an early adopter, people are very discerning about what they’re willing to wear every day,” says Dan Ledger, a principal with Endeavour Partners.

Google has tapped designer Diane von Furstenberg to design frames for Google Glass and Tory Burch recently created jewelry to disguise the Fitbit. Apple hired a former Burberry executive ahead of the launch of its long-rumored iWatch. Intel has similar plans for a fashionable smart bracelet, produced in collaboration with Barneys New York, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, and fashion retailer Opening Ceremony.

“I think the companies who are really succeeding in this are saying let’s start from scratch and let’s design a product that doesn’t look like a gadget,” says Ledger, citing products like the Activité.

After design, the next problem for device makers will be figuring out how to keep people using the product. In a recent report, Endeavour Partners found a third of people abandon their wearable device after six months.

Davis doesn't wear his watch much any more. It never really worked like he'd hoped.

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