Author(s): Peter Bryer
Smart clothing certainly wasn't a recurring theme at the IFA 2015 trade show in Berlin. CCS Insight saw only one company, Samsung, with smart clothes on display, despite recent high-profile smart clothing-related announcements from several top IT, sporting goods and clothing brands.
Samsung's C&T fashion division showcased several smart clothing items, including its Smart Suit with an embedded NFC tag. The company also demonstrated its Body Compass bio-smart sports shirt embedded with electrocardiogram and electromyogram sensors to track the wearer's heart rate and respiration during exercise, able to suggest customized exercises based on the collected information.
Body Compass is the result of a collaboration between Samsung C&T Fashion and Samsung Electronics — an overlap of style and the latest tech components. Representatives at Samsung's IFA booth explained that Body Compass was experimental, and that the company is uncertain whether such a product will be released. For now, it's a prototype that shows the possibilities of smart clothing.
Some practical limitations of items like Body Compass outweigh the supported uses. CCS Insight believes that a market for smart clothes is still years away from breaking into the mainstream, as other wearables — such as wrist-worn trackers and heart-rate monitors — undertake similar tasks.
Earlier in 2015, we wrote about our experiences with an OMsignal smart shirt (see Blog: Clever Clothing). The shirt uses passive sensors woven into its material and has a detachable "black box" module to collect and send the data to the wearer's smartphone. The shirt compiles basic data about heart rate, breathing and calorie burn, which can all be viewed via the smartphone, though OMsignal doesn't currently provide coaching advice based on the information collected.
The OMsignal shirt is an example of a first-generation product from a relatively unknown start-up with limited funds and a limited portfolio. However, interest from professional sports teams is resulting in more investment and the involvement of sports brands like Adidas, Nike and Under Armour. Many top national football teams, for example, have been using the Adidas miCoach elite team smart clothing system to collect information about their players' performances. The data is shared with team management in real time for evaluation. The opportunities in big data are clear.
CCS Insight believes that the top of the sports world is where the market for sensor-rich smart clothes is developing. The expense and complexity of care for such clothes mean that the technology will slowly trickle down during the coming decade. High-profile professional and university teams are presently the front line for smart clothes, but fitness enthusiasts are next.
This is still a niche market, but attracting interest from an eclectic collection of companies including Adidas, Google, Intel, Levi's, Ralph Lauren, Samsung and Victoria's Secret. It involves clothes, it involves electronics and it involves data.
Some trade shows are dedicated to smart clothing and some to sports equipment, but we slowly expect to see a serious overlap with consumer electronics. Shirts, shoes and socks will be connected if the reasons are right.