The dust has finally settled on the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where the biggest hit was in the marriage of Intel's chip technology and the latest millennial high-fashion favorite, Opening Ceremony, to design chic wearables. Add Madison Avenue's Barneys to the mix, which is where Intel CEO Brian Krazanich announced their wearables would be launched, and, well, it generated the kind of fireworks not seen since Sony unveiled its VCR at the 1970 CES. Intel's play into the "Internet of Things" was a bigger hit than Samsung and LG's huge curved screen TVs because it represented a brilliant strategic match-up of cool technology and hip fashion.
But will wearables -- miniature electronic devices worn under, with, or on top of clothing -- sell? Perhaps it might be worth looking back to ancient China, where the hip of that day wore fully functional abacus on a ring. But more than just a fashion accessory, the abacus was a handy ancient computing device that assisted calculations.
Successful 21st century wearables will also actually have to be useful.
If fashionable wearables is the 21st century latest play in the "internet of things," why not then also leverage our other huge 21st century trend -- population aging? A billion people over 60 by 2020 represent a pretty sizable market for any new product. And, shortly, there will be more people over 60 years old than under 14 across the globe. This 60+ population also happens to have more of that disposable income than their millennial grandchildren who seem to be the target of the Opening Ceremony partnership. For the first time in history, the proportion of society will begin shifting from young to old so it seems odd that that the market for wearables would not give at least as much attention to the larger of the two demographics.
Even more peculiar is that the connection between fashionable wearables and the over 60 market -- from China, Japan and South Korea, to Brazil, Europe and the good old USA - is not targeting the thirst, even obsession, to stay as healthy and active as we age. And while the tech guys focus on youth, its at least Interesting that the fashion industry is beginning to get it. Consider Cole Haan's "Born in 1928" campaign that accompanied the New York Fashion Week shows at Lincoln Center last Fall. Or, the Harper's Bazaar "Fabulous At Every Age", which this year featured a segment for 60 and 70 year olds, using older models such as Lee Radziwill.
For that global market of a billion or more "seniors" there is not only the desire to look and feel better, but the need to find solutions for better health overall. Wearables designed for and by the planet's exploding aging population could meet all these criteria. It would also have impact on preventive approaches to deteriorating health as we age, something the policy wonks from DC to Brussels and Beijing to Tokyo should pay attention to as market-based solutions such as these could answer their greatest challenge of skyrocketing healthcare costs. Some ideas for how to realize Intel's vision of "Mak[ing] everything smart" for the globe's aging population:
- A wearable Norma Kamali designed t-shirt partnering with The Cleveland Clinic to monitor and prevent cardiovascular risk.
- Prada Shoes with that monitor walking and help with falls prevention, a consequence of that inevitable loss of bone as we age. Surely there are specialists at London's University Hopsital or Sweden's Karolinska Institute who would jump at this.
- Ask Calvin Klein to work with the International League on Dermatological Societies on wearable clothing that monitors aging skin needs from hydration to non-melanoma skin cancer.
- Ray Ban glasses to adjust for loss of vision as we age, and monitor for early signs of macular degeneration or cataracts. China has already targeted over a million preventive cataract surgeries a year as an investment. Designer glasses to help meet this need would seem to be a no-brainer.
- Or, get with the likes of a Michael Kors to design a collection for the over 50 crowd that also has that wearable tech capacity to give us a push on compliance with those medicines we've been prescribed.
While the Opening Ceremony push towards millennials may well find a way for our grandkids to continue their texting from a wearable bracelet or pendant, don't miss the other end of the demographic market. That one that is the fastest growing market across the entire planet and is at least as interested in The Internet of Things.