Of all breakout technologies of 2013, wearable technology has generated the most headlines and hype. For good reason too. Wearables (as they’re also known) promise a future where we’re no longer encumbered by heavy laptops or smartphones that are easy to lose. But how will this impact social media?
In this new series, we’ll explore how wearables can enhance the social media experience – and create exciting new innovations.
For part two of this series: Smartwatches, click here or scroll down.
For part one of this series: Google Glass, click here or scroll down.
Many fashion accessories are becoming smart: glasses, watches, rings, hats, shoes, etc. Yet the one article of clothing that still seems to be in the realm of science fiction is the common shirt. This is because of the inherent difficulty of mass producing machine-washable—and flexible!—electronics that can be used every day. However, the smartshirt—though still a niche device—is already changing lives.
The Power of Smartshirts
What is a smartshirt? Embedded with a computer, it is a shirt that can network with an external device either through WiFi or Bluetooth. It may also feature an LED display or various e-textiles.
Its most frequent use is as a healthcare technology. For instance, the Hexoskin smartshirt is used to monitor heart rate, breathing rate, and actigraphy. It can allow physicians to monitor their patients or help coaches optimize the performance of their athletes.
Another captivating smartshirt concept is the Point Locus jacket. Partially developed by HootSuite employee Stephanie Wiriahardjia, this wearable offers haptic feedback for the visually impaired. Connected to GPS, it gives the visually impaired geographical directions via vibration, and also allows control through voice recognition. The Point Locus may give millions of people newfound independence and spontaneity.
We asked Stephanie what motivated her to develop this radically innovative smartshirt:
“We didn’t want to make something useless and merely for entertainment. One of our friends was visually impaired.” She told us that for most of the visually impaired, independence gets lost with age. “Recognizing there was not much GPS technology that offers flexibility, we looked for ways to increase quality of life.”
While the smartshirt is a boon for health, athletic, and assistive technology, it also has profound applications for social media.
The T-Shirt is the Original Tweet
In the emerging days of Twitter, many skeptics asked, “What could possibly be said in 140 characters?”
The answer, of course, was in their closet. Beyond fashion, t-shirts have always been a tool for free expression. Some of the most influential slogans produced made their debut on a t-shirt including:
- Have A Nice Day
- I’m With Stupid
- Kiss Me I’m Irish
- Vote For Pedro
The t-shirt’s reach extends beyond the realm of novelty. It’s made brands, helped elect politicians to office, and planted the seeds for social justice. Its messages thrive because at its core, the t-shirt is intrinsically democratic.
The democratic—and social—nature of the t-shirt has spurred great entrepreneurial success. Threadless is one example.
Threadless is an online community of artists that crowdsources t-shirt designs. In 2000, co-founders Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart created Threadless with a $1000 investment. Each week, thousands of t-shirt designs are submitted to the site then put to a public vote. The winning t-shirt is printed and sold on the website. The threadless community currently has 2.4 million members—and growing. This is a testament to the t-shirt as a social platform. But what will happen once smartshirts go mainstream?
When Smartshirts Go Social
tshirtOS hints at the social possibilities.
The tshirtOS prototype is the world’s first wearable, shareable, and programmable t-shirt platform. It includes a built-in LED screen, camera, microphone, accelerometer, and audio speaker. It can be controlled from a smartphone, and connected to the Internet. So what do developers envision for tshirtOS? A platform that:
- Broadcasts tweets
- Shares music
- Captures Instagram photos
More importantly, tshirtOS seeks to shift the t-shirt from design to story-telling. It will no longer be about static pictures and messages. Every day, smartshirts will display something bold, new, and spontaneous. As they are, t-shirts are already social. Once they’re connected to the Internet, the t-shirt’s ample social powers will be further amplified.Read more