This Is The Future Of Wearable Technology

Fashion Weeks — from New York to Paris to Milan and beyond — typically showcase next season's fanciest wares. But increasingly, tech-inspired and tech-laden fashion has been making an appearance bringing the two worlds together. We caught up with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at MADE Fashion Week’s fashion-tech showcase presented at MILK Studios

Since the release of its wearable device, MICA — designed and released in collaboration with Opening Ceremony last year — Intel has bet big on the wearable revolution. During the keynote at CES, Krzanich announced both an upcoming eyewear partnership with Oakley and a late-2015 release of the Intel Curie Module, a button-sized, low-battery, data-collecting piece of hardware that can be used to help manufacturers adapt fashion to be "smart." Intel's dedication to form as well as function puts it well in the lead, especially for female consumers, over the bulky first-generation wearables. We asked Krzanich where smart accessories are headed and when he thinks fashion should lead innovation.  

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First, I'd love to ask you about the future of wearables. How have they been failing women in the past?
"The way all of this started was that we built our own wearable, the first version of the MICA bracelet. It looked like a lot of the watches you see out there now. It was black and square, and we thought we were being real clever as engineers and put a bit of tortoiseshell on the edge. It was a great example of a bunch of engineers putting together something. As we started to show it to some people in the fashion industry, they just sort of laughed at us. That was when we said, 'Look, the real key here is that we know how to build great products, and [add] functionality and smartness into things, but we don’t know fashion. We have to go find partners.' 

"We connected with the CFDA and they connected us with Opening Ceremony. What I think I’ve learned, especially on the women’s side, and my wife who wore the original bracelet loved the functionality but she didn’t wear it everywhere, so I learned that if it’s something you’d wear even if the battery is dead, then that’s a wearable for women that works."

Are they not stylish or functional enough to bring people away from their cell phone screen?
"You have to think about the use cases; women have their phone in their purse more, and they don’t have pockets as much, so oftentimes it’ll be hard for them to even carry their phone. So, we made this and it doesn’t need to be tethered. You can leave your phone in the car or at home or anywhere and get the messages mirrored onto [your] device. We tried to really focus it on: What are women’s special needs, how are they different? And that’s how this came about. Also, the fact that the interaction [with the device] is underneath; I think a lot of people expected us to put the screen on top, but women told us they want the fashion on the top. Just listening to women got us to this product."

It seems to me that wearables are diverging — between data-collecting devices with no screen interface and more smart-watch-type ones — and both have really different benefits. Do you think we need both? 
"I think it depends on what’s going on, and what you’re doing at the time. We built Curie so you could literally put it inside a button. It doesn’t have to be inside a button, but we use the button because as we [moved into] the fashion world, we knew this was something they knew and understood. I think there are a certain amount of wearables that will collect data and help you be better at something, and that’s what this is really designed for.

"It has a motion engine on it that can tell if you are biking or running or swimming and it will adjust what it does then. If you are running, it may go find your heart sensor and really care about that. You’re swimming? Okay, I’m more worried about your breathing rate or your pulse overall. It has the ability to adapt. We wanted to design a platform that we could take to the world of fashion and say, 'Here’s what we can do; tell us what you’d like to do, and we can innovate around that.' We tried to make the backbone of the system in a form that they could understand and adapt from."

This will allow a lot of start-ups the ability to innovate. What are some opportunities for this particular technology?
"Certainly big companies, like the Nikes and the Under Armors, could take this and ask us to perfect it for them. But, by providing this kind of base structure — we provide the software developer kit, the hardware developer kit, we provide anything you need. You and a couple of friends can go to our website and say, 'We just want our own personal wearable,' and we can provide you that software. I think start-ups is where the real innovation will come. We’ll see it in all kinds of things."

In the past, fitness trackers have traditionally been distinct from smart watches. It sounds like you think it would be useful to have both, or do you think ultimately they’ll just fuse?
"I think there’s going to be a difference between things that you want for social and things that you want for fitness, and that’s going to be more of a divider than the watch itself. Let’s say you’re a biker, you may not want to have a watch. You may want a pair of glasses that displays all of that information and transfers music for you. [For swimming,] you may want to take your phone, which is the base interconnect of that, in a little bag at the back of your suit. If you’re a runner, you may want a handset."

You've recently announced a partnership with Oakley. I'd love to hear your thoughts on tech-integrated glasses.
"I think some will come with a display and some will come with other interactions. I think you’ll see products that have smart displays, but you’ll also see glass products that are more voice-oriented, or motion-oriented. Glasses are a unique place where you have both your eyes and your ears right there and you can use either to interact and be interactive with."

At CES, you also announced your plan to increase diversity at Intel, which is exciting for us as a women’s media company. Why did you find it so important to be at the forefront of this issue in tech right now?
"I think a lot of us have tried to really solve the issue of women and minorities in tech, and I think we’ve made good progress. We also made a commitment that we would reach full representation at all levels of our company by 2020. The $300 million [we committed to this issue] is really meant to solve those problems. Some of that is pipeline, getting women interested in tech, investing in schools and university programs targeted towards women. Also, as women come into the workplace, they are dropping at faster rates than men. So, we are trying to address those issues... To me, that part of the commitment — saying we’ll be at full representation by 2020 — was a bigger commitment than the $300 million."

What different metrics do you see wearables tracking?
"The smart earbuds that track your heart rate are a good example of taking something you already have, and [turning] that into something that’s smart and useful and collects data. You’ll see a lot of options. What we’ll move to eventually is devices that can actually measure sweat and how lactic acid is building up in your body... You’re going to get a lot more information over the next few years... I think there’s going to be a lot of improvement there."

Do you think more data will help retain those users?
"I don’t think a single-use device is that good; it needs to do a little more. I think there are a lot of functions where, if you start to involve a broader partnership, all of that needs to be thought out and put into a solution set. When you have that, your fitness tracker becomes a bigger part of your life."
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