Last night, the new season of The Apprentice decided to take a stroll down "oh look we're so hip and fashionable lane", and pitted the two teams against each other in a race to design and pitch a piece of wearable tech. Here is an armchair review of the results.
Oh, and spoilers, because duh.
The Design Process
So. Before we get down to the 20-minute money-shots of the candidates screwing things up, we've got some "words of advice" from "industry experts, CuteCircuit". [Side note: I'd never heard of CuteCircuit before this moment in time, but Wikipedia informs me that it's "the first fashion company offering smart textile-based garments that create an emotional experience for their wearers using smart textiles and micro electronics", so I suppose they're perfectly qualified.]
CuteCircuit's head lady-designer kicks things off with an interesting definition of wearable technology: "Garments that are beautiful and functional at the same time". Sorry, FitBit! Sorry, Google, but you're doing it all wrong. Forget fitness trackers, or smartwatches, or face computers or Bluetooth-enabled rings: wearable technology is all about miniskirts that are controllable via apps.
Empowered with this wonderfully misleading advice, the men's team nonetheless came dangerously close to actually having a good idea: project manager Scott had been to a conference on wearable technology, and as such proposes some kind of diet-monitoring device. This idea (which isn't actually crazy!) is rapidly shot down by the other guys, who don't think it's "mass-market" enough, and instead they go with a shirt with a screen on the front, something tentatively called the "selfie sweatshirt".
The girls, on the other hand, manage to cobble together some kind of idea for a heated jacket - #innovation - that also has the ability to charge a phone, and has LED lights thrown in for good measure. In either case, neither of the final products actually ended up being what each team started the day with. Instead, this is what was eventually pitched.
'On Air' Sweatshirt
Concept: To basically describe this thing in a few words (avoiding 'abomination' or 'trainwreck'): it's a sweatshirt with a webcam and a small neon sign glued onto the front. If we pretend for a second that it's an actual realistic concept, I guess it would be aimed at the lifelogging sect. It kind of has a Google Glass-esque ability to capture spontaneous photos, and with much the same offensive in-your-face Glassholeness and concerns for privacy that dogs Google's wearable.
Specs: Numbers-wise, we discover that the camera records 1080p video at 30fps, which almost seems reasonable, if not GoPro-challenging. Storage is onto a SD card, and the battery pack for the whole sorry affair is somewhere on the back of the shirt. Battery life isn't mentioned, although this is probably one of the few tech products where the sooner it dies, the better.
Flaws: How do I wash it? Does the webcam come out? Do I selectively dip just the arms into soapy water, hoping that I never spill ketchup on the front? QUESTIONS.
Also, the long-suffering man from Firebox makes an excellent point when he observes that it looks like someone's Christmas jumper. As, for that matter, does the Apprentice candidate who says he'd never wear the goddamn thing in a public place.
Verdict: Realistically, this horrific novelty item (I feel it's a dis-service to wearable tech to call it a wearable: it's a webcam that's been badly sewn onto someone's jumper) falls outside of any kind of conceivable market. Lifeloggers (and that's already one hell of a niche market!) would most likely be turned off by what I'm just assuming is piss-poor video quality and crap battery life. Google Glass aficionados would reject it because it's nothing at all like Google Glass, and possibly even more offensive to wear. And the rest of us would reject it because it's, well, shit.
Heated/Solar-Powered/Light-Up Jacket Thing
Concept: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's a jacket that heats you up and charges your phone. Oh, and also, there are light-up LEDs secreted in the lapels. Classy.
Flaws: Let's talk about the solar panels on the shoulders for a bit. Setting aside (if that's even possible) what a complete eyesore they are, did no one think to question the logic of pitching a solar-panel-powered jacket in England, of all countries? Not to mention that there doesn't appear to be a battery in there anywhere, meaning you could only charge your phone if you're miraculously standing in direct sunlight, and even then it almost certainly wouldn't charge it to full power.
Verdict: I mean I think we're all pretty much in agreement: the jacket is a fairly non-functioning abomination (Firebox's fictional order with fictional money of 250 fictional products nonwithstanding). Separately, I happen to own both a battery-powered vest and a solar charger, neither of which actually work. I can't imagine that combining them, and sticking some LEDs on top, would really change that in any way.
Let's play the fun hypothetical game of pretending that we're Lord Sugar, sitting in our probably-horrifically-expensive Chair Of Power, rather than being 20-something bloggers in pyjamas trying to scrap together enough of a word count to make rent. Which team should've won this challenge? Obviously neither, because they're both stupid. But if the judging process had made some modicon of sense (rather than pitching a wearable technology product to JD "wearable technology means light-up trainers" Sports), the guys' product should probably have pipped it, if only because it would cost less to produce, and therefore you'd lose less money when you eventually end up giving them away as Christmas gifts.
We asked you guys for your thoughts on the episode, and for your own wearable technology ideas, all of which can be found residing in a corner of our website here.