In 2015, Will.i.am, former member of the music group The Black Eyed Peas, teamed up with Gucci to launch a smart band. He described the band as the perfect mix of fashion and technology.
However, the band didn't do too well in the market, probably because it was trying to do too much -- being a high-end fashion accessory, and a smart band that among other things could make calls through the 3G Network.
So far, the merger of fashion and technology has proceeded in fits and starts. Ideas, such as a T-shirt that lets you change the pattern on it, didn't quite take off with the non-tech-crazy crowd. And, it will still take some time to refine the technology.
This is the backdrop in which Arrow has launched a smart shirt, or a shirt with a piece of built-in digital technology. In this instance, the technology is not overwhelming -- the shirt has an NFC chip in one of its cuffs. This smart shirt doesn't want to change your life dramatically, only give you some added functionality.
The Arrow shirt comes with an app that can be downloaded from the Play Store. Currently, the app is only available for Android, as Apple hasn't opened up APIs for NFC on the iPhone.
So, how does the smart shirt work? A tap of the smartphone on the left sleeve, where the NFC is located, will result in action such as exchange of contacts, putting the phone in the silent mode or opening your favorite app. The catch is that you can have only one action defined at a time.
There are a total of 10 actions in the app, divided into three sections called Connect, Phone Modes, and Entertainment respectively. The first section is mostly for exchanging contacts. You can feed your business card, LinkedIN profile or Facebook profile on to the tag in your cuff. And, when you don't have a business card handy, you can still easily provide your details to someone simply by tapping their phone on the cuff.
The app has 'meeting', 'home' and 'work profile' phone modes, that enable you to control certain phone parameters such as Bluetooth, WiFi, and ringer volume.
These would be quite useful if they could have worked without intervention. But as the NFC tag can only execute one action at a time, you'd have to go to the app and write that action to the tag. Then you can tap on the sleeve to activate or deactivate a profile. This process is kind of a lengthy. I'd rather just press my phone's volume button and use modes such as, 'priority,' 'silent,' and 'all notifications,' that are built into android.
The Entertainment section has these actions: 'Pair Bluetooth,' 'Open a favorite app,' 'Play the favorite song,' and 'Play the favorite playlist.'
Among these, 'Open a favorite app' is something that could be quite useful. I can just keep it written on the tag for days, and use it when I want to get into that particular app without unlocking my phone. The songs that can be played are tied up exclusively to Google Play. So, if you have playlists in some other players, you can't use these functions.
At ₹2999, Arrow has smartly priced the smart shirt at par with a regular shirt. The company is also in talks with various metro-rail services across cities in India to enable the integration of the smart shirt with the metro app. That would make for a compelling use case.
One problem people wearing the shirt could face is the position of the NFC tag. It is on the left cuff and people who hold the phone in their left hand might find it a tad inconvenient to switch the phone to the other hand. NFC tags in both cuffs might be a good idea, as it could also give the wearer two actions to act upon instead of just one.
While fashion and tech are starting to merge, with uses cases that blend everyday clothing with helpful tech functions, it is going to be a while before digital technology becomes a regular feature of our daily wear.