The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Hay­ley Tsukayama

With tech­nol­ogy wo­ven into its fibers, the smart Com­muter jacket is aimed at those who en­joy bik­ing to work.

Google and Levi’s showed off this week a new joint project: a $350 smart jean jacket. While this jacket lit­er­ally puts tech on your sleeve, it does it in a sub­tle way that doesn’t re­quire putting an­other screen on your body. In do­ing so, it of­fers a glimpse of what smart fabrics can do and of the evo­lu­tion of the wear­ables mar­ket — one in which con­sumers won’t have to wear a clunky ac­ces­sory that screams high tech.

The smart Com­muter jacket, which was in­tro­duced over the week­end at SXSW in Austin, Texas, is aimed at those who bike to work. It has tech­nol­ogy wo­ven into its fibers, and al­lows users to take phone calls, get di­rec­tions and check the time, by tap­ping and swip­ing their sleeves. That de­liv­ers in­for­ma­tion to them through their head­phones so that they can keep their eyes on the road with­out hav­ing to fid­dle with a screen. The jacket should hit stores this fall.

Its smart fibers are wash­able; they’re pow­ered by a sort of smart cuff­link that you’ll have to re­move when you wash the jacket. The cuff­link has a two­day bat­tery life.

While the idea of a smart jean jacket may not ap­peal to ev­ery­one (es­pe­cially on a hot sum­mer day), the ex­is­tence of such a jacket is telling about where the mar­ket may be go­ing.

“I think that the com­muter jacket from Levi’s is re­ally perfect be­cause it’s fo­cused on a sin­gle con­sumer au­di­ence. It has the cy­clist in mind and is tar­get­ing what their needs are,” said Sid­ney Mor­gan-Petro, re­tail ed­i­tor at trend for­cast­ing firm WGSN.

She said that what makes the Com­muter jacket dif­fer­ent from other wear­ables — and even other smart cloth­ing — is that it’s not nec­es­sar­ily mar­ket­ing the tech as its main fea­ture, but rather us­ing it to solve prob­lems that ev­ery­day peo­ple have. Many smart­watches and even other smart cloth­ing can feel like so­lu­tions in search of a prob­lem to solve. The Com­muter jacket, she said, stands out as a type of wear­able for a more ev­ery­day con­sumer who may not be that in­ter­ested in the tech, but likes the prac­ti­cal fea­tures that come with a stylish jacket.

Wear­ables are ex­pected to be a $19 bil­lion in­dus­try by 2018, ac­cord­ing to Ju­niper Re­search. Prod­ucts in­clud­ing Fit­bit fit­ness track­ers, An­droid Wear watches and the Ap­ple Watch have helped fuel a rise in main­stream aware­ness of wear­ables for the past sev­eral years, even lead­ing Fit­bit to go pub­lic in 2015. But the mar­ket for wear­ables has taken a bit of a tum­ble in the past few quar­ters. Fit­bit in Jan­uary an­nounced it had missed earn­ings ex­pec­ta­tions and start­ing cut­ting jobs be­cause sales were lower than ex­pected.

It’s hard to say ex­actly what has caused the cool-down in wear­ables, but one pos­si­bil­ity is that the mar­ket for ubertechy wear­ables that try to put a smart­watch on your wrist is pretty sat­u­rated. An­a­lysts have pointed to a shift in the mar­ket away from the su­per-func­tional smart­watch to­ward gad­gets that are a lit­tle more fo­cused and bet­ter look­ing to boot.

“Where smart­watches were once ex­pected to take the lead, ba­sic wear­ables now reign supreme,” Jitesh Ubrani, se­nior re­search an­a­lyst for the anal­y­sis firm In­ter­na­tional Data Corp., said in a De­cem­ber re­port. “From a de­sign per­spec­tive, many de­vices are fo­cus­ing on fash­ion first while al­low­ing the tech­nol­ogy to blend in with the back­ground.”

The part­ner­ship be­tween Google and Levi’s speaks to that grow­ing ef­fort be­tween the tech­nol­ogy and fash­ion in­dus­tries. Sev­eral de­sign­ers have al­ready part­nered with the likes of Fit­bit and Ap­ple to make their wear­ables more chic and less geek. Com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Tommy Hil­figer, Ralph Lau­ren and Un­der Ar­mour have re­leased smart ac­tivewear; see­ing a brand as old and main­stream as Levi’s get in on the act il­lus­trates just how per­va­sive the idea has be­come.

“The re­tail op­por­tu­nity is huge,” Mor­gan-Petro said. “We’re ba­si­cally see­ing clothes as the future of wear­ables.”

The new Com­muter smart jacket by Levi’s and Google has tech­nol­ogy wo­ven into its fibers, and al­lows users to take phone calls, get di­rec­tions and check the time by tap­ping and swip­ing sleeves con­tain­ing a sort of smart cuff­link. Photo cour­tesy of Google’s Project Jac­quard

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