Photography, telephony, music, journalism, pocket calculators. The list of industries thrown off course by the iPhone is long. Now, with the Apple Watch, it seems as if the California tech industry is at last coming for one of the oldest of old-world trades: fashion.
What we call fashion is, of course, vast and varied. It includes sneakers and sweaters, wedding rings and workout wear. Even if Apple sells as many watches as it has sold phones (an unlikely proposition), the company will directly influence only one narrow part of our attire. Still, the new watch heralds a broader convergence between the things we use and the things we wear. In a series of conversations, designers, engineers, and futurists told me that they expect many pieces of technology to look more like fashion going forward—worn on our bodies, designed to make a personal statement, subject to fads. At the same time, they said, old-fashioned fashion will become technologized. The look and feel of future clothing won’t be influenced by Apple Watch–style glass and steel as much as by standard business practices applied in a new way. Boring, buzzword‑y supply-chain management—and innovative manufacturing techniques, too—might just bring you new pieces of custom jewelry each day, or pants that are truly your size.
From Wearables to Implantables
At their most basic, wearables—short for wearable technology—comprise a microchip, a data sensor, and a connection to another device. Together, these three elements either collect information (as a pedometer does) or deliver information (as a hearing aid does). Some wearables, like the Apple Watch, do both. Until now, personal-data collection has mostly been the domain of the “quantified self” movement, whose members see life as one big data-tracking opportunity. (Some QS devotees go well beyond counting their steps—they record their moods, their social activities, even their sex lives with varying degrees of persnicketiness.)