Wearable Technology and Social Media ~ A Series

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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

Image by CuteCircuit

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.

Point Locus from Stephanie Wiriahardja on Vimeo.

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
  • YOLO

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.

The following is Part 1 of our Series on Wearable Tech. This was originally published on January 16th, 2014.


Image by Kārlis Dambrāns via Flickr

Google Glass may be the most desired wearable today, but smartwatches are more popular.

The Pebble smartwatch is indicative of this trend. After failing to attract investors, Pebble Technology (previously known as InPulse) turned to Kickstarter. Then they made history. On May 13, 2012, the Pebble smartwatch became the most successful crowd-funded project ever. Needing only $100,000, 68,929 backers instead contributed $10,266,845!

Since then, 300,000 Pebble smartwatches units sold have sold to date—each retailing for $150. The story doesn’t stop there. As it turns out, Pebble was the snowball that triggered the avalanche. Afterwards, numerous start-ups such as WearIT, MetaWatch, and Omate sprang up around the smartwatch concept. The big boys also took notice. Qualcomm, Sony, and Samsung released smartwatch models during 2013. Samsung alone has sold 800,000 Galaxy Gear models. The smartwatch’s popularity, however, should come as no surprise. Since Dick Tracy battled Flattop Jones in 1940s comic strips, people have been dreaming of such a device.

From Comic Books to Palm OS

Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, foresaw the smartwatch. On January 13, 1946, the iconic detective was outfitted with a 2-way radio equipped on his wrist. In 1964, the watch was upgraded to a 2-way television—which, in turn, became a 2-way computer a couple decades later.

Other pop culture heroes loved their smartwatches. David Hasselhoff’s character in Knight Rider wore one. Likewise, if you grew up in the 80s, you’ll recall that Penny from Inspector Gadget had a “utility watch” she used to communicate with her pet dog Brain. The fascination with smartwatches was by no means constrained to fiction. The 1979 Usborne book Future Cities predicted that “ristos” (as they were called) would become popular in the 21st century. Boldly, it stated that such a device would combine radio-telephones with mapping capabilities.

In 1983, the future had arrived. Seiko released the first digital watch with computing capability. The Data 2000 came with an external keyboard for data entry. This model was followed by the RC-1000 Wrist Terminal which could sync with a computer. It was compatible with the Commodore 64, TRS-80, and IBM PC. 20 years later, Fossil released the Fossil Wrist PDA which ran Palm OS. This was the first wristwatch that ran a mobile OS complete with a graphical user interface (GUI). Reviewers promptly called it “revolutionary”—but it ultimately failed due to its bulky size, dim screen, and ugly appearance.

As engineers continued to tweak smartphone technology, there was a simultaneous development—one with profound implications for social media.

The Rise of the Tamagotchi

A Tamagkotsi version 4 with a character Young Mimica (Japanese version).

In 1996, Bandai released the Tamagotchi. The Tamagotchi is mostly notable as the first handheld digital pet. It immediately took the world by storm. As of 2010, over 76 million Tamagotchis had been sold.

As it turns out, though, the Tamagotchi is also the smartwatch’s first killer app.

“Tamagotchi” is a portmanteau of the Japanese word for “egg” (tamago) and the English word “watch.” Originally the toy was marketed in Japan as the Tamagotch—The “i” in “Tamagotchi” was added after release to the English-speaking world.

If the Tamagotchi was merely a video game, it would be no more significant than Nintendo’s Game & Watch series. But in 2004—the same year Facebook was launched—Bandai released the Tamagotchi Connection. This edition used infra-red technology to network with other Tamagotchi owners. It had the following abilities:

  • Play multiplayer mini-games
  • Form friendships
  • Give presents
  • Marry two Tamagotchis
  • Breed new baby Tamagotchi

Suddenly, the Tamagotchi became social. It was no longer about raising and caring for a virtual pet. It was about broadening emotional attachments to the game through social interaction—an attachment so powerful, researchers call it the Tamagotchi effect.

Smartwatches and the Social Media Future

Due to the success of the Tamagotchi, we don’t need to speculate whether social media can adapt to the smartwatch form factor. It already has. This is why social media companies have joined the fray.

Snapchat has already released a version of the app for the Galaxy Gear. Called the Snapchat Micro, this edition allows users to take photos, preview and draw on them, then send to friends. Likewise, Path enables users to check in, message friends, and post photos.

What makes the smartwatch particularly alluring for social media? By virtue of being a wearable, the smartwatch is a device that’s always present with you—more so than a smartphone. Its size and form factor forces content to be immediately digestible. This may lead to bold new forms of social media—perhaps as bold as the original Tamagotchi.

The following is Part 1 of our Series on Wearable Tech. This was originally published on January 9th, 2014.

wearable tech google glass
Image by Erica Joy via Flickr

“Google Glass”

While Glass is still in beta—and thus not for sale at retail—it has become the most desired wearable today. Yet for all the gadget lust it generates, few people are sure of what Glass does exactly. This is largely due to Glass being experienced by so few. Yet while Glass itself is new, the idea behind it is not.

At its basis, Google Glass is an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). As a device category, OHMDs have been available to consumers for nearly 20 years. They’ve been produced by a broad range of manufacturers, including Sony, IBM, Nokia, and Microsoft. In fact, the MicroOptical MV-1 (released in 2002) looks eerily similar to today’s Google Glass.

But what exactly does it do? An OHMD projects images directly to the eye through lenses that resemble eyeglasses. In order to project these images, it must be connected to an input device – typically a miniature computer – which in turn is controlled through eye and hand gestures.

There are immediate practical uses for Glass. Using augmented reality, Glass can supplement everything you see with additional information. Want to know the immediate walking distance to the local coffee shop? Glass can tell you. Glass can also record your trip to the coffee shop.

google glass
Image by Scott Schiller via Flickr

The Impact of Social Media

Google Glass is primarily a visual medium. It is a device reliant on visuals, gestures, and voice. For this reason, text-focused social media does not complement Glass. Do not expect to read long drawn out blog posts, or a constant barrage of tweets. Even so, text has its place—mainly to augment the visuals.

On Glass, visual social media becomes more immersive. Everything you see is a potential photo or video that is potentially shared. On the flipside, everything you see can also be accompanied with social media insight. Just as film created new forms storytelling, Glass will create new forms of communicating.

New Social Media Innovations with Google Glass

Already there are social media apps available for Google Glass—many which give us a taste of things to come.

Glass To Facebook, for instance, allows you to share photos to your Facebook timeline. Photo-sharing is not unique to Glass, but what is unique is the experience.

Creating a photo is just a matter of saying, “OK Glass, take a photo.” You’re then given the option to share with an audience. Once you visually see your audience, you can select the Glass touchpad to share. Thereafter, when someone likes a photo, Glass notifies you immediately. Sharing is no longer a matter of navigating a quagmire of menus. Instead, it’s a matter of receiving visual feedback, and responding to it. This example just scratches the surface of social media possibilities. QAD has created an unobtrusive means for recording streaming video. Glass also offers instant language translation.

So where does Glass go from here? The technology is still in its infancy. The best social media apps for Glass haven’t been invented yet.