Leslie Price at Racked pens a scathing piece on the cross-section of fashion and technology in relation to wearables. I believe she's right that tech, now more than ever, needs to tap into fashion:
The tech world is infatuated with fashion. This is because fashion has something tech seriously wants: the ability to create and sustain demand for products that are—let’s face it—kind of useless.
Fashion is, by its very nature, exclusive. It's about creating an identity, a brand, that is so cool that people will spend thousands and thousands of dollars to acquire a tiny piece of it.
She goes on to explain where, in her opinion, Apple is getting it wrong with Apple Watch:
Tech products, on the other hand, are often positioned as world-changing innovations, sweeping solutions in search of problems. As Tim Cook explains, Apple's goal for its smartwatch is to change people's lives.
Apple stresses how hyperfunctional its watch will be, though the functions that it performs won't prove revelatory to anyone who owns an iPhone, which it must be paired with. (That's right, it's a $350 accessory of an accessory—and both must be charged nightly.) The iPhone, it should be noted, is ubiquitous not because it's cool, but because smartphones are considered necessary in our modern times. As it stands, the Apple Watch is neither. A "dirty secret" of the wearables market is that at least half of consumers abandon them within months, no doubt realizing how pointless they truly are.
Google's Glass efforts are also name checked:
In some ways, the Apple Watch is similar to Google Glass, another wearable once heralded as a game changer. Despite making small inroads into the fashion community—perhaps the apex of which involved models sporting Glass on the Diane von Furstenberg runway—the accessory was never widely adopted. Glass wasn't sexy and it wasn't necessary. (It also made people look like tools, hence the term "Glasshole.")
While it's actually no secret (at least in tech circles) that the current crop of wearables have failed to set the world alight, Leslie argues that the problem lies in selling functionality over a story, a look or a piece of identity.
Google, perhaps, underestimated people's unwillingness to strap a wearable to their face however useful it might be. It's gone for now, but isn't dead.
On the other hand, Apple has learned lessons from others' failed efforts in the wearable space. It has hired talent with fashion chops in Angela Ahrendts, Paul Deneve, Marc Newson, Patrick Pruniaux, Ben Shaffer, Musa Tariq, Chester Chipperfield and more. While all of these people will not be working on the design of Apple Watch and future wearables directly, Apple is lining up fashion talent to aid with every stage from a product's inception to building it to marketing it and selling it in retail stores.
Not only that, but the company is not simply selling Apple Watch based on its functionality as Leslie's piece suggests. While the tech crowd want to see the device's utility and place in their lives, Apple has emphasized the device's "precise" timekeeping — in keeping with the luxury watch market — as well as how it is endlessly customizable from the size to the metal color to the strap material. It's a fashion item as well as a mini-computer, and Apple knows it:
Selecting a watch is very personal. As with all things you wear, how it looks is at least as important as what it does. So we set out to make Apple Watch something you’ll love to use every day. As well as something you can’t wait to put on every morning.
In the end, I think tech companies must strike a balance between the tech and fashion markets. As much as Apple or Google might need to get the fashion press and influencers on board, it needs its product to be mass-marketable, not entirely exclusive to either. Unnecessary, yet desirable. Luxury, yet affordable. Fashionable and functional.