ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
For years, tech companies battled to see who could make the most beautiful smartphone - with soft curves, bright screens and clever technology. Well, now the industry is competing to make clothes that free our hand from our phones, but still connect us to streams of digital information. It's called wearable technology, and its one of the latest crazes at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Aarti Shahani, of member station KQED, roamed the floor searching for wearables that she'd actually want to wear. And she sent this report.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The human body is a limited piece of real estate. And Billie Whitehouse, founder of Wearable Experiments, says her smart jacket with GPS navigation belongs on every woman's shoulders. She has me try it.
Oh-oh, my arms. OK, thank you.
BILLIE WHITEHOUSE: Do you feel like you're wearing electronics?
SHAHANI: No, it's just like a nice, salmon-colored jacket. Good fit.
The navigate jacket integrates with the mapping app on your phone. Type in a destination, and little vibrators built into the shoulder pads tap you on the left to turn left, and on the right to turn right, and double tap when you've arrived.
WHITEHOUSE: We're basically trying to give the customer their eyes back. So when you're wandering around a city - say you've never been to New York before - you don't have to stare down at your phone the entire time.
SHAHANI: A company that makes smart watches is showcasing a sleek, new metallic band. It's called the Pebble Steel. And while it is slimmer than their original plastic watch, the big face still hangs off my wrist. Spokeswoman Myriam Joire says that's a small price to pay for all the functionality in the mini computer.
MYRIAM JOIRE: When you're outside your car, it shows you things like your tire pressure, where did you leave your car - like, the address. If you're parked in a parking lot, it makes it easier to find.
SHAHANI: A lot of women don't like watches. So Michael Lee, of Arrow Gear, shows me a black, high-heel shoe. It has LED lights built into a wide ankle strap, making it a low-resolution screen that lights up - say, in a dark club.
MICHAEL LEE: Just like a Jumbotron. And it can also stream live Twitter feeds. Within two or three seconds of you actually uploading to your Twitter, it will actually respond and directly show- after a profanity filter, obviously.
SHAHANI: Many experts at Consumer Electronics Show are saying wearable devices will explode in 2014. Suddenly, we will all want smart-gadget gear that augments our body parts with data streams. It's a bold vision with a nice dollar figure attached. At a briefing, Consumer Electronics Association senior researcher Kevin Tillman dropped the B-word.
KEVIN TILLMAN: We see a 35 percent increase in year-over-year growth from 2012 to 2013, up to $1.2 billion in 2014.
SHAHANI: You think it's going to be a billion-dollar industry.
TILLMAN: Yes, that's what we're projecting for 2014.
SHAHANI: But the year of wearables may be many years away. I e-mailed a picture of the black high heel that streams Twitter to an expert in New York who goes to fashion shows, not electronics shows.
EVA CHEN: Wow. That is something else. You know, it's definitely a fashion statement, I would say that much.
SHAHANI: Eva Chen, the editor-in-chief of Lucky Magazine, part of the Conde Nast empire. She self-identifies as a tech enthusiast in fashion. She's even tried on Google Glass eyewear. But, Chen says, most shoppers don't look for smart. They look for style.
CHEN: At the end of the day, you know, the fashion industry is a very image-driven industry. And it has to look right, and it has to be, ultimately, what someone wants to wear because if people don't want to wear it, then it's not going to sell.
SHAHANI: Apple recently recruited talent from the luxury brand Burberry. Intel is partnering with Barneys New York to create a new wearables product line. Chen says maybe the fashion leaders can get tech on to more bodies.
From NPR News, I'm Aarti Shahani in Las Vegas.
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