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Friday, September 6, 2013

Not Ready for a Smartwatch? Try Bluetooth Earmuffs

If you’re going to carry a handbag or wear earmuffs to keep away the cold this winter, why not add headphones or Bluetooth so you can listen to music and talk on your phone, too?

Bluetooth HD earmuffs made by 180s, an activewear company, will debut for $80 at department and outdoor stores this fall. They hide Bluetooth wireless technology, a microphone and hi-def speakers, not to mention wicking away moisture and retaining body heat.

The earmuffs join handbags already on the market that also hide technology, like a clutch from Rebecca Minkoff that opens to reveal Bluetooth-connected speakers, and bags from a Kickstarter start-up called Everpurse that wirelessly charge smartphones.

Wearable technology seems to be the tech world’s hot new thing, from Google Glass to the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, unveiled Wednesday. But part of the resistance to devices like these is that they involve wearing an unsightly computer on your body, not to mention remembering yet another gadget before leaving the house.

“This is a feature that changes the way we interact, the way we express and the way we capture,” Pranav Mistry, the head of research at Samsung Research America, said at the introduction of the smartwatch in Berlin.

But many people aren’t ready for all that change. So clothing designers are taking a cue from technology companies and incorporating wearable tech into existing accessories. They aren’t as useful as an Internet-connected device with a screen, but they are an easier transition.

These items could turn out to be a bridge, guiding consumers from a world in which technology is a machine sitting on a desk or tucked in a bag to one in which technology is an accessory we wear on our bodies.

“The future of wearable technology addresses the need for people to stay connected to all of their devices no matter what they are wearing, where they are going or what kind of weather they are facing,” said Jim Kenney, chief executive of 180s, which also makes products like gloves that allow people to use a touch screen phone.

In the meantime, as we wire up our earmuffs and clutches, apps could make Internet-connected glasses and wristbands useful enough that more people want to wear them. After all, there was a time when smartphones were only for early adopters.

Tech companies know they need to hide wearable technology in accessories that look less like computers and more like things we would wear anyway. Google is experimenting with including Glass on real, fashionable glasses frames. And Apple hired Paul Deneve, the former chief executive of the Yves Saint Laurent Group, who is likely to bring some fashion smarts to future wearable tech.