Technology must support a lovable experience to be adopted widely. The first iteration of Google Glass failed to break through because wearing the product wasn’t a lovable experience. Google seems to have a learned a lesson about lovability with the launch of Jacquard, an effort to produce smart clothing. I believe Jacquard represents the first step towards making wearables lovable by decreasing our dependency on screens.
What Is Jacquard?
Jacquard, a product of the Google Advanced Technology and Projects Group, is a technology intended to make clothing connected and interactive. As Google states on its blog, “With Jacquard technology, you can perform common digital tasks—like starting or stopping music, getting directions or reading incoming text messages—by simply swiping or tapping the jacket sleeve.”
Jacquard Bears Fruit
Google announced Jacquard in 2015. The first product employing Jacquard, the Levi’s Commuter Truck Jacket, went on sale this week. The denim jacket, targeted toward urban commuters, relies on gesture-sensing threads, wirelessly connected to your mobile device (both Android and iPhone), to keep you connected while you’re on the go and your hands are occupied, such as when you are bicycling or driving to work. As Google notes, you can use gestures to manage your life, rendering obsolete the interface of holding an object to communicate and manage your digital life.
That Google is collaborating with Levi’s on the first official Jacquard product launch is significant. Essentially Google is launching a sensor device through an experience many consumers have every day – wearing a Levi’s denim jacket. Levi’s is an iconic brand with a longstanding history of making products people love. It’s a coup for Google when Levi’s blogs alongside Google, touting Jacquard on its own blog.
As Dieter Bohn of The Verge notes, “When you talk to both Levi’s and Google, they’re very eager to tell a design story about this jacket, not just a technology story.”
Welcome to the Ambient World
One of the problems wearables have suffered as a category is that the products lack lovability. Wearables may perform useful tasks such as monitoring your heart, but getting to the useful information has too often meant enduring an unlovable user interface and wearing an ugly product. And one of the central problems with the wearables user experience has been the inclusion of the screen. Frankly, wearables have not broken through because interacting with a wearable continues to remind you that you are interacting with a screen. And interacting with a screen is not a natural experience. Each time you look at a screen, you are reminded that you are being forced to interact with a computer on its own terms. Your attention is drawn from your world to the computer’s world through the screen.
One of the shortcomings of Google Glass is that the device reminded you of that screen interface by turning eyewear into a computer screen. In addition, putting on a Google Glass was not a natural action unless you wear eyeglasses and are accustomed to putting them on. (But even then, you had to remove your eyeglasses to put on Google Glass.)
By contrast, Jacquard removes the screen from the device. Aside from it being a normal jacket that tends to cover any sort of wearable device on your arm, the denim jacket is the device. But even the jacket in and of itself does not make the product lovable, and neither does the sensor inside it. Lovability comes from weaving smart thread woven into clothing to make commuters’ lives more natural and less cumbersome as they commute. True, tapping on your sleeve to interact with the product might not be a natural behavior, but it’s an easily learned lovable experience. Why? Because you can still interact with your device without needing to have a screen in front of your face.
The Commuter Truck Jacket could be the start how we interact via headphones and sleeves and not being beholden to staring at a screen to be productive; freeing ourselves.
The Marketplace Reacts
So far, the Levi’s Commuter Truck Jacket is achieving favorable notice. Dieter Bohn wrote, “I’ve been wearing this Levi’s Commuter Trucker jacket for a few days now and it’s very nice. It fits well and looks great. And by swiping or tapping the fabric on the left cuff, I have been able to control my smartphone.” Karissa Bell of Mashable wrote, “After a few days of wearing Levi’s Jacquard jacket, I’m more convinced than ever that the future of wearable tech lies not in tiny screens on our wrists, but in the stuff we’re already wearing.”
But perhaps more importantly, Christine Flammia of style-conscious Esquire wrote:
The best and most important move on this collaboration is that it’s the most stylish wearable technology we’ve seen to date. It’s really a jacket with smart capabilities, rather than technology you can wear. It’s off to a great start, for sure. Sure, it’s a little limiting—you can only set three gestures—and the snap tag in the wrist feels like a security tag left on your jacket. But what’s more important than the jacket itself is what it means for the future of fashion and technology. With this launch, there’s good reason to believe that the future of technology is going to be a stylish one.
This kind of a reaction among a publication such as Esquire is especially important given that the fashion world has not been particularly impressed with wearables to date. Meanwhile, reactions from Mashable and The Verge matter because the technology must be useful or else there’s no point in Project Jacquard existing.
A Lovable Wearable?
Google and Levi’s will certainly monitor the reaction and sales of the jacket (priced $350) and learn. Meanwhile, Google says more Jacquard products with more designers are on the horizon as the company attempts to accomplish the difficult but intriguing task of making wearables lovable. As the retail industry weathers their less than ideal situation, focus on these ambient experience is key to refining relationships with consumers via a next generational product. I believe the Levi’s Commuter Truck Jacket is a start – not just because of what the smart clothing does but because of what it does not do – force you to look at a screen.
At Moonshot, we partner with brands to identify lovable experiences for their customers that can leverage emerging technologies to create ambient experiences like the Commuter Jacket.