Why your clothes need a mobile upgrade

Wearable computing glasses and wristwatches? What about the computing you're already wearing?

Wearable computing will soon go mainstream thanks to Google Glass and the rumored Apple iWatch.

But I've got news for you: Wearable computing is already here. We carry powerful smartphones and accessories in our pockets and on our person everywhere we go. We "wear" them in our clothes.

ScottEVest's Fleece 7.0, shown in a faux "X-ray view" makes it looks like you're carrying nothing, when you've really got everything.

Although we carry the gadgets of 2013, our clothes are designed for the gadgets of 1913. For example, that tiny pocket in jeans above the right front pocket? That's for a pocketwatch.

It's time to upgrade our clothes.

Why we need mobile-aware clothing

We live in a mobile world now. We carry tablets, mobile phones and a universe of accessories go to with them -- or, we would if we could.

Yet the clothing most of us wear hasn't changed to keep up with the new reality. Mobile tech isn't mobile if we can't carry it.

Buildings have been upgraded with Wi-Fi and more outlets. A world of cases, bags, backpacks, briefcases and purses have emerged to accommodate the new mobile reality.

But clothing isn't keeping up.

Pockets need to be redesigned. They need to be sized and shaped and placed for today's huge smartphones and tablets and the accessories we carry for them. We need more pockets for making gadgets more accessible in all situations -- but not to thieves.

Clothes should be designed to enable the easiest and safest use of our touch-screen devices.

We need clothes that help us protect our expensive gadgets from damage, loss or theft.

Clothes can even help us get and stay powered up and connected and do other things that enhance mobile computing.

Clothing that does some or all of this will become much more common over the next few years. But I need it now, and so do you.

Wardrobe malpractice

After traveling and living as a digital nomad in Greece, Turkey, Kenya and Spain for the past nine months, I've come to the conclusion that my clothes are not up to the task.

I've worked in planes, trains, cars and boats; hotels, motels, hostels, apartments; coffee shops, restaurants; indoors, outdoors; day and night; rain or shine.

I've been both nearly stolen from and actually stolen from. I've carried awkward backpacks, left my tablet or keyboard behind when I really could have used it and wasted all kinds of time because I couldn't bring the stuff I needed. And all because of my clothes.

While enjoying the Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain, last month, for example, I asked my wife to hold my iPhone while I captured some video. She put it in a zipped compartment in her purse. But a pick-pocket unzipped the purse and stole the phone without either of us knowing.

So how did clothes fail me? First, I advertised the possession of an expensive Apple product with my white earbuds. I could have painted a target on my back for similar effect. I need clothes that hide my earbuds.

Second, my wife dropped my phone in her insecure purse because women's clothing generally lacks secure pockets. My wife needs secure pockets in her coat, at least.

I've nearly ruined phones from rain exposure and from dropping them.

With Bluetooth microphone and speaker sewn into the thumb and pinkie, Hi-Fun gloves let you make calls using the "call me" gesture.

I write for a living, and would love to carry my Apple Bluetooth keyboard with me everywhere I go (I use it with my iPhone, iPad and Android devices). Unfortunately, I can take it with me only if I'm carrying a backpack or when it's cold enough for me to wear my ski jacket with the big front pockets.

Even a backpack isn't a solution. Because the far side of the backpack is away from the body, it's easy for thieves to cut it open with a razor blade without anyone knowing.

What I really need are durable clothes with lots of secure pockets for all my gadgets and accessories, and that hide my earbuds and generally give me the ability to work anywhere I choose.

I always carry earbuds, chargers and small lenses for my iPhone and Android phone.

I'd like to carry my full-size Bluetooth keyboard with me, and spare AA batteries for it. I also want to carry my 10-inch iPad. Oh, and I'll need my noise-cancellation headsets in case I need to do a podcast interview or make a business call from a noisy tapas bar (business hours in the U.S. are late at night in Europe).

The bottom line is that I'd like to carry my full mobile office with me wherever I go, and sometimes I go places where a backpack is not a good thing to have.

How to make computing wearable

The biggest mobile-centric clothing company by far is called ScottEvest.

Founded 13 years ago, ScottEVest originally sold a nerdy "eVest" laden with pockets that made you look like a cross between a fly fisherman and a war correspondent.

Today, ScottEVest sells a wide range of jackets, hoodies, pants, shorts and even a line of boxers with pockets in them.

While ScottEVest's original product made you stand out as a gadget-obsessed geek, the company's current line does the opposite -- it enables a maximum geek lifestyle while hiding the evidence with carefully designed pockets.

One of the most unusual offering is ScotEVest's catalog is a range of mobile-computing compatible clothes for women.

One newish product typical of the ScottEVest catalog is called the Fleece 7.0, which has 23 pockets, including one designed to hold a large iPad. (If you think that's a lot of pockets, another ScottEVestjacket has 37 pockets.) Some of the zippers lock. A mobile phone "Quick Draw" pocket lets you see and use the phone through clear plastic without removing it, which protects it from thieves and weather. The fleece also hides earbuds through the back into the mobile phone pocket, and gives them small pockets on either side of the collars to tuck them away when not in use.

Other companies sell clothes designed for mobile computing as well.

Several are selling jeans with pockets sized and placed for smartphones. One company called wtfJeans says their pants are iPhone 5 compatible with a perfectly sized pocket. The pants also have a USB thumb-drive pocket.

The Italian men's fashion house Zegna sells a Solar Ski Jacket. A built-in battery pack the company says is capable of charging a mobile phone is charged via built-in solar panels. (The jacket is not for sale this time of year.)

Gloves are another area of innovation. Because most touch phones and tablets use capacitive touch, you can't use them while wearing gloves -- unless they're designed for it. Agloves winter touchscreen gloves are made with silver-coated nylon, which makes all ten fingers conductive for use with any touch-screen device.

If you want to turn heads, Hi-Call gloves from Hi-Call are warm winter gloves with a speaker built into the left thumb and a microphone in the left pinkie. By doing the "talk on the phone" gesture, you can actually talk on the phone.

The future of mobile-compatible clothing

Although few companies currently sell practical, mobile-aware clothes, there's no shortage of great ideas by inventors and designers.

One designer created something called the Escape jacket, which has a very simple feature: A wireless-proof pocket. The pocket is lined with a wire mesh that blocks any wireless signals from coming or going. You can't receive calls and nobody can track you when the phone is in that pocket.

Researchers are developing ways for clothes to use your own movement to generate electricity. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed shoes that both generate and store electricity.

Not to be outdone, however, ScotEVest developed a jacket concept for the future. It's not a shipping product, but like a concept car, embodies ideas for the future. It has speakers built into the collar, a built-in microphone, an LTE hub, a lifestreaming camera, a waterproof iPad pocket, an RFID-blocking pocket, an iPhone dock, a signal-boosting fractal antenna, solar panels, batteries, display wrist panels and other features. It even keeps you warm.

That's the jacket I really want.

Until then, however, it's a great idea to consider all the existing clothing options for making mobile computing more mobile.

By voting with our dollars, we can encourage innovative companies to give our clothes a much needed mobile upgrade.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at http://Google.me/+MikeElgan. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Read more about personal technology in Computerworld's Personal Technology Topic Center.

This story, "Why your clothes need a mobile upgrade" was originally published by Computerworld.

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