In 1975, the world witnessed the birth of the first solar-powered calculator watch, the Calcron, with its nine-digit display and his 20 tiny keys, could fit on your wrist and was wonderfully of the era when it comes to the design. The concept was simple, yet way ahead of its time, and it took manufacturers almost 40 years to finally turn wearable tech into a sustainable market.

Today, smart watches are one of the most recognizable items in a segment where technology and fashion come together: wearables. The word is used to define any electronic device that a person can actually wear, and that integrates various functionalities, such as a camera, mail and messaging apps, a music player, performance and health trackers, payment apps or even perfume dispensers. Most can connect to the Internet or other objects – through the Internet of Things -, and wearables can take the form of watches, ankle bands, glasses, headsets, smart clothing, implants, rings and even earrings, all packed with technology and apps. Alongside tech giants like Google, Apple or Samsung, brands like Ray-Ban, Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger are also running in this race.

“Impressive and scary”

“In theory, wearables can mimic any object, but with the current level of technology, smart watches are the most popular, because they usually offer a larger panel than other wearables, with more functionality, and are more practical. But that could change in the future depending on how technologies evolve”, states Ernest Azzam, business manager at HP. Living in Dubai, this 52 year old tech geek has been following the development of wearables since the launch of the first modern smart watches by Apple and Google, around 2015.

They’re pretty neat objects and the possibilities they offer are numerous, especially in the healthcare, sports and leisure fields”, Azzam adds. Businesses, such as insurance companies, also have an interest in wearables. “Some apps are now designed to monitor a driver’s behavior behind the wheel. The data is then sent to the insurance company that use it afterward to modify the terms of the insurance policy depending on how good or bad a driver the wearer is. That’s impressive and, at the same time, a bit scary”, says Azzam with a smile.

Vuitton’s smart watch

Functional at first, wearables have been gradually redesigned with an eye to fashion, while some of them also offer some innovative customization options. For example, some watches allow the user to take a picture of the clothes they’re wearing, and the watch then adapts its home screen to the wearer’s style, says Azzam.

In February, Louis Vuitton pushed both the functionality and design sides of wearables to another level by launching the Tambour Horizon Light Up, a massive luxury, third generation smart watch which is inspired by a classic analog wristwatch. The piece features an exhaustive and updated panel of apps within a stunning case. Haute couture has been also exploring the possibility of using smart technology to create new, futuristic outfits. The Wearable Solar Shirt designed by the Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen, or the illuminated Fibre Optic High Heels made by the Italian-born creator Francesca Castagnacci, are two of the many examples of the coming together of fashion and wearable tech.

Since its birth, the wearable market has been growing steadily and has room to expand. According to ResearchAndMarkets.com, the global wearable technology market is expected to reach USD 118.16 billion by 2028, registering a CAGR of 13.8% from 2021 to 2028. “The rapid increase in demand for multimedia devices and smartphones, coupled with the surge in the adoption of fitness trackers and health-based wearables, is anticipated to propel the market for wearable technology” the report – published last January – stated. In December, Acumen Research and Conclutin reported that the global e-textiles and smart clothing market could grow at a CAGR above 32.3% between 2021 and 2028, to reach USD 15.018 million.

The Gulf countries are perfectly positioned to partake in the wearables boom, as the technology is popular in countries with a high purchasing power. Growth should, however, be slower in middle and low income countries, concludes Azzam.