What Google's Wearable Tech Platform Could Mean for the Fashion Industry

Instead of just collaborating with tech companies on wearable devices, fashion designers may soon be able to launch their own.
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Lauren Indvik
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Instead of just collaborating with tech companies on wearable devices, fashion designers may soon be able to launch their own.
Samsung's Galaxy Gear watch. Photo: David Becker/Getty

Samsung's Galaxy Gear watch. Photo: David Becker/Getty

At the South by Southwest conference in Austin on Sunday, Google announced that it's planning to release a software development kit (SDK) to help other companies create wearable devices that run on Android. The SDK will launch in just two weeks.

The announcement was made by Google SVP of Android and Chrome Sundar Pichai, who indicated that Google wants to become a "platform" for wearable devices -- much the way that Android is already a platform for apps created by outside developers, and for mobile and tablet devices made by third-party manufacturers including Samsung and LG. Imagine the forthcoming platform as a place for developers to release apps for wearable devices, which wearable device manufacturers could then incorporate into their products, along with the operating system that powers them.

The move could help fashion companies -- typically lacking in the hardware and software capabilities required to launch, say, a smartwatch -- create and distribute their own wearable devices, and thus tap into a market estimated to be worth somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion in the next two to four years.

To date, the fashion industry's involvement in wearables has been limited to collaborations, with designers lending their aesthetic sensibilities to someone else's product for a fee and/or a small cut of sales. With a software platform from Google and hardware reference designs from Intel, tools are quickly becoming available for fashion companies to create wearable devices themselves.

As The Verge points out, it's likely Google will create its own product -- or products -- to demonstrate the capabilities of its new platform, which Google wants to be used in devices more various and complex than the smartwatches and activity-tracking ones we've seen to date (and perhaps even more complex than its own "smart" headgear, Google Glass). Google has launched a series of Nexus smartphones and tablets over the past few years to demonstrate the capabilities of its Android mobile operating system -- developing new products that show off its new platform for wearables would be in line with that strategy.

The question, now, is whether fashion companies will take advantage of the resources offered by Google. Intel is working with the CFDA to encourage use of its reference designs for wearable devices. A spokesperson for the CFDA did not immediately respond to a question about whether it was working with Google -- but if Google isn't approaching them yet, now would be a good time to start.