Spreadshirt CEO Philip Rooke on how to make wearable tech work

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

Philip Rooke, the chief executive of Spreadshirt, is an opinionated man. He believes five years will pass before people make “real money” out of wearable technology, as well as thinking that Amazon’s drone delivery service is “going to be near impossible to make a reality.”

Yet his interest in wearable technology goes beyond the commercial. As a long-time user of Fitbit, Rooke believes the ‘hype’ around wearable tech is simply repeating history of other technology trends.

“I’ve been using [Fitbit] for a year and a half, and I’ve never really thought about myself as having wearable technology,” he tells MarketingTech. “It is gradually integrating itself into our lives.

“It’s a little bit like there were some social medias existing before everybody talked about social media,” he adds.

“I think what we’re seeing here that the media jumps on to is: is wearable technology becoming a mass market phenomenon – which to me as a commerce person means ‘can we make lots of money selling things around it or using to sell?’

“It’s more that it’s starting to move into the mass market, and therefore mass media awareness,” he adds.

Rooke argues the functionality of a technology such as Google Glass wouldn’t be natural to him.

“I don’t need to wear glasses, I’m not used to wearing them, and I don’t seem to hang on to a pair of sunglasses for more than three months without losing them,” he explains.

“I’m not certain I’d like to be talking to somebody wearing them, to be honest. The first thing you’re taught in diplomacy, or when you’re working in foreign countries, is to take your sunglasses off when you’re talking to people.

“I think it is divisive from that point of view, but I think it is also right they are challenging the boundaries of how we interact with things like Google in the future.”

With the influx of data at companies’ fingertips, it can become a more personalised customer experience. As has been explored in MarketingTech previously, you’re treading a fine line between enhancing the UX and being a bit creepy.

For Rooke, the experiences he’s had would suggest the latter.

“Some time ago Disney put screens inside the characters, so when the guy’s wandering around dressed as Mickey Mouse, when the children are queuing up in Disneyworld they scan themselves into the queue…so they can go ‘Hello Phil, how are you?’

“When they’re six or seven in Disneyworld that’s probably a neat bit of interaction. If you extend that into the adult world, and if you walk into a shop, it’s nice if they genuinely know you.

“It’s going to undermine it, or you’re not going to be trustworthy of somebody if you know they’ve just somehow received a data update. It’s not really that friendly.”

This may of course be personal preference, but as Rooke explains: “It comes to that social currency. Is it genuine social currency, or was that person wearing Google Glasses?”

Privacy remains an issue. For Rooke, it’s about concentrating less on that, and more on having a genuine enhancing experience.

“I think that’s where some of this technology may go wrong,” he says. “[With] Fitbit, I go home and it tells me the reason my weight went up today was because I didn’t do enough steps.

“It hasn’t entirely improved my life, but it tells me what the problem is, and it tells me I have to do more steps, and then I can improve my life.”

Spreadshirt deals in customisable clothing, offering a platform for companies to design, buy and sell apparel. Given the only add-on to Spreadshirt apparel to sell is an integrated bottle opener – “not exactly high tech”, as Rooke put it – is wearable tech a likely proposition?

“Increasingly we are working with sports clubs,” Rooke says. “When you have running clubs there is maybe something that you could build into clothing that could also be personalised, and people could make it part of their overall wearable technology.

“Most people, when I challenge them, cannot remember the last time when they were more than 10 feet away from their mobile phone. Decorating your mobile phone will become a very large part of our business.

“It’s more that we’re starting to work out how you might want to decorate each of these pieces of technology that you carry with you, whether it’s a mobile phone, or maybe we start to work with companies like Fitbit to customise the product they’re selling.”

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