MICA, short for My Intelligent Communication Accessory, is a smart bracelet designed by Opening Ceremony and engineered by Intel. It first became available in late 2014. While it is designed to be eye-catching, the technology inside is bringing new capabilities to MICA wearers by adding features powered by Refinery29 that include fashion alerts and daily horoscopes. These enhance the current features, which include text messaging, emails, Google calendar, Facebook events, Yelp and intelligent reminders.
It is also creating new ways for fashion brands to connect with their loyal customers.
“To ask someone who cares deeply about fashion to wear an item every single day, it better be insanely good-looking and versatile,” said Connie Wang, Fashion Features Director at Refinery29, the new-media company behind some of the new services available on MICA.
“It’s got to work with a wide variety of outfits, while also looking appropriate for a wide variety of occasions.”
Until recently, most wearable technologies were largely geared toward males and focused on health efficiency or fitness apps, said Ayse Ildeniz, general manager of strategy and business development for Intel’s New Devices Group, the team that developed MICA.
“With MICA, we wanted to create a piece for women who were busy and on the go, style-conscious and wanting to be connected to loved ones,” said Ildeniz.
One bracelet design features black Ayers (water snake skin), pearls from China and lapis stones from Madagascar, while the other features white Ayers, tiger’s eye from South Africa and obsidian from Russia. Both feature 18-karat gold plating and integrated mobile technology that allows wearers to see their Google calendar, Facebook events, and receive Gmail notifications and intelligent meeting reminders.
The new R29 Fashion and R29 Horoscopes features are powered by Refinery29 and provide styling tricks and fashion news, as well as essential cosmic insights.
Currently available in the U.S. for $495 at Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York, MICA comes with a two-year AT&T wireless data plan.
The luxury cuff-style bracelet exemplifies how the fashion and technology industries, once considered strange bedfellows, are increasingly working together to bring new wearable technologies to the world. Big brand names in fashion and technology continue to team up, including Intel’s collaborations with eyewear maker Luxottica, SMS Audio, Fossil Group, and Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer.
While fashion is one of many market segments for wearables, which range from health tracking to industrial applications, BI Intelligence, the research arm of Business Insider, estimates the global wearables market will grow at a compound annual rate of 35 percent over the next five years, reaching 148 million units shipped annually in 2019, up from 33 million units shipped this year.
Ildeniz said that by interacting with fashion industry leaders Intel is helping grow an ecosystem that could ultimately speed innovation around wearables by sharing best practices and driving down costs.
By bringing the two worlds together, Ildeniz said this convergence between industries will endeavor to make wearable technology address the needs of broader audiences. This is what’s needed to break away from what exists today, which she believes is overly focused on male consumers.
“Together we can make products for people who care about what things look like, and that’s happening because we’re getting input and having brainstorms between fashion designers and technology engineers.”
Refinery29’s Wang says that while style is essential, the people she covers in the fashion industry know that the most effective wearables need to be tech-first, fashion-second.
“It’s also important to get the fashion part right, but a product’s success is going to hinge on how well it works.”
The fashion industry is certainly influencing the wearable tech industry, according to Ildeniz. It’s encouraging companies like Intel to create user experience teams to conduct field research that can be merged with fashion industry insights to inspire wearable technology that offers the types of notifications and features that people desire in a wearable vs. other devices that they already own, like smartphones.
The collaborative work on MICA continues to be eye-opening as cross-industry interests and synergies are discovered.
“When we ask fashion experts what they’d like us to do, it’s clear they want us to make things that defy physics,” said Ildeniz. “But we also learned many want to find ways to stay linked with customers, not only after a purchase but also when the purchased item is being used.”
Ildeniz sees the fusion of fashion and technology industries not only meeting the desires of fashion consumers, but also shaping the future of consumer electronics and the way people interact with them.
“With today’s interfaces, most assume we need to look at something like a screen, but voice will be a big factor in how we interact with wearable technologies,” she said.
She also points to how the world is bifurcating.
On one hand, smartphones are the hub or main computing and communication devices that feed wearable technologies. On the other hand, there’s the notion of having sensors distributed on the body and beyond to other devices, cars and objects at home.
“When everything talks to everything, the possibilities seem limitless,” Ildeniz said.
Although this distributed model may not hit mainstream for another 10 years, she said that it could render today’s form factor less relevant. The need for screens could diminish. Computing could happen anywhere and be communicated with a hat, a pair of glasses, a dress, basketball, car or almost anything we use in everyday life.
“Intel Curie has lots of potential because of its small, low-power ability to fit in tiny things,” she said, referring to the new button-sized computing module prototype first shown in January 2015.
“We’ll likely see interesting proof of concepts, but there’s lots of work to be done to improve battery life and other things, like making it washable,” she said.
Fashion and tech depend on each other, said Wang.
“Both are tools to help us live more expressive lives, and as technology becomes as essential as clothes are, there will inevitably be more and more overlap between the two,” said Wang.
“However, a big issue that tech has to solve to appeal to the fashion set is the problem with being able to customize your hardware on a whim. We change our clothes every day, but we can’t yet change the look of our tech.”