How Ear-O-Smart is designing wearable tech that puts fashion first
While the wearable technology market continues to grow and mature, the space has had a persistent image problem. Consumer wearables have largely focused on athletic wristbands, with critics suggesting that for women, who outnumber men among prospective buyers, alternative offerings have been largely relegated to glammed up versions of fitness trackers—with the “glam” often coming from overtly girly designs.
If wearables are going to succeed among consumers, and not just gym-goers, they need to become more fashion conscious. Look no further than Apple Watch, which seems to be embracing fashion by offering distinct collections and customizable straps. Google’s recent “strategic reset” of Google Glass also points to an issue the entire industry is dealing with—if the wearables aren’t “cool” enough to wear every day, mainstream adoption will be tricky. However, following successful wearable tech-fashion collaborations such as Tory Burch’s Fitbit collection, jewellery is now poised to have its wearables moment.
This week at MaRS, We Are Wearables Toronto, one of the largest wearable tech meetups in the world, will host a panel of experts specializing in digital culture, fashion and wearables to discuss developing and designing wearables for women.
The event will feature Ear-O-Smart, touted as the world’s first smart earring (it can monitor your heart rate, calories and activity level). Ear-O-Smart connects to your smartphone with Bluetooth, allowing you to monitor a wide range of fitness data. Most importantly, fashion is a fundamental part of the company’s product.
I chatted with Ravinder Saini, president of Ear-O-Smart, about the company and his take on the future of wearables and fashion.
What role will fashion play in the future of wearables?
We’re too obsessed with the word “smart”—everything is becoming smart these days. We sometimes tend to forget the underlying concept of why people use accessories or wear certain products (for example, rings, bracelets, earrings, glasses, shoes and so on). The reality is that most of us wear accessories to enhance our looks and these accessories reflect our personality.
As far as the future is concerned, I believe we have the “smart” down pat. Now it’s time to go back to the basics of wearables and start focusing more on the design, not just the functionality. In the future, I see wearables really starting to integrate with our everyday lives—our style, our personalities, our routines. Instead of making a conscious decision to wear smart gear, smart will be integrated into everything we wear.
Let’s talk Ear-O-Smart. We’ve seen companies like Ringly and Cuff tackle jewellery wearables. Why earrings?
One of the most important factors in monitoring heart rate is the quality of contact between the device and the skin. Even a slight motion between the skin and wrist-based heart rate monitor will induce a lot of inaccuracy. Of course, wearing a tight wrist-based monitor in order to reduce motion is uncomfortable.
On the other hand, physicians use the earlobe to monitor the heart rate and blood oxygen of patients due to the high blood flow in this area, which provides more accurate information. In addition to greater accuracy, earrings are also inconspicuous and unobtrusive compared to leading wristbands and chest straps.
Earrings are naturally made to fit tightly against the ear so they inherently provide better quality of contact without the discomfort.
When you began designing your earrings, what were some of the fashion elements you wanted to have?
The design of earring is extremely important. We are currently exploring a few options with jewellery designers to bring the best design to market. Of course, we understand every woman is unique and has her own sense of style; for this reason, we are looking at how best to allow for customization of our earring.
What’s the technology behind the product?
Our fitness monitor uses photoplethysmogram (PPG) technology to monitor pulse through blood flow in the skin. Simply put, light is emitted through LED which gets reflected by blood present under the skin. The reflected light is absorbed by photodiode to exactly capture the moment when there is blood flow. Wearables like the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear use similar technology.
Apart from logging your activity level and the calories you burn throughout the day, the Ear-O-Smart app acts as a personal trainer by recommending customized exercises. In fact, the Ear-O-Smart app will notify the user when they should speed up or slow down based on their heart rate data to provide more optimal results.
What has been the response from women?
The consumer feedback we’ve received is overwhelmingly positive and exciting. While we did market research, the feedback we’ve collected from real women has more than validated the gap we identified in the wearables market today: women want fashion as much (if not more) than they want function!
The majority of women just aren’t comfortable wearing bulky watches or wrist-based bands, but they do want to monitor their health. The unisex designs of leading wearables just don’t mesh well with the fashion-conscious female who likes her accessories to co-ordinate and match.
Have you had any challenges in blending tech and fashion?
The biggest challenge so far has been scaling down the device in order to fit in a standard-sized earring casing. That being said, we’ve taken the bull by the horns and are working hard to reduce the size of the device. We anticipate having a second generation Ear-O-Smart device finished within the next two months.
We are already working on the second generation Ear-O-Smart device while actively talking to consumers and collecting feedback to use while developing our first collection of Ear-O-Smart earrings.
If you missed the last wearables meetup featuring Ravinder or want to learn more about the wearables community in Toronto, check out this recap of the Feb 4 We Are Wearables Meetup.