Over a year after Google showed off its "connected" jean jacket designed for bike commuters at last year's Google I/O developer conference, the company today is unveiling the final product, which goes on sale on Wednesday for $350. Designed in partnership with Levi's, the new smart jacket takes advantage of technology from Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP), which involves weaving multi-touch sensors into clothing.
At Google I/O, the companies demonstrated how a bike commuter could instead touch their jacket's cuff and use gestures to control various functions that they would otherwise have needed to pull out their phone for - like handling calls and messages, adjusting the volume, or navigating with Google Maps, for instance.
In today's announcement, Google says the new Levi's Commuter Trucker Jacket will allow its wearers to do things like stopping or starting their music, getting directions, or reading incoming text messages just by swiping or tapping on the jacket's sleeve.
This works because the gesture-sensing sensors ("Jacquard Threads") are woven into the jacket's cuff, and are then wirelessly connected to the wearer's mobile phone using tiny electronics embedded inside the sleeve in a flexible snap tag, Google explains. This tag will also alert you to incoming calls and texts using haptic feedback and light.
The gestures you use to do things like start or stop the music, get your ETA or next direction, receive updates on calls or texts, and other tasks are configurable using an accompanying mobile app, so you can customize the jacket to your needs.
The jacket works with iOS or Android devices, even though it's from Google.
On Levi's website, the apparel maker notes that when you remove the tag from the cuff, the entire jacket itself is washable - just like regular denim.
However, you can tell there's a bit of stiffness to the cuff where the sensors are woven in which could be uncomfortable. But the jacket's denim nature - also a tough, sturdy fabric - keeps this from being too obvious, at least compared with a softer fabric, like cotton. Yet the tag appears to be more than a bit obtrusive, and not all that fashionable.
Despite the interesting use of technology here, it's unclear at launch if there will be high demand for this jacket, given that much of what it can do - like taking calls, listening to music, or getting directions - can be replicated using a smartphone and a pair of bluetooth earbuds. (Apple's AirPods, for example, can invoke Siri who can aid with a number of tasks, hands-free.)
Of course, fiddling with your phone while on your bike can be difficult, but using one hand to swipe and tap the sleeve on the other arm is only a bit better. And perhaps it's not $350 worth of improvement over the current experience.
That being said, the Levi's Commuter Trucker jacket is maybe less about selling a product in large numbers, and more about proving the concept can be brought to market. It's a sort of beta test to see how people will react to wearable technology embedded in their clothing, and whether they'll actually adopt such a thing.
At Google I/O, the company had said it would work with other apparel makers in the future to expand Jacquard's reach, including athletic clothing companies and those who design business wear. Its presentation then saw the Cinta's brand logo appear on a slide, but Google didn't mention them by name.
There's no word today on future plans as today's focus is all on the Levi's launch.
"We’ll learn a lot from this launch, and that’s what we’re most excited about right now," a Google spokesperson said. "What’s next is right now - we’re going to listen to feedback. From those learnings, we have the opportunity to evolve abilities within the jacket since Jacquard is a platform and to consider the next version of the jacket, or other items."
The jacket itself will be sold in select shops starting on Wednesday, including Kinfolk in Brooklyn, NY, Fred Segal in West Hollywood, CA and Concepts in Boston. On October 2nd, it will be sold online and in select Levi’s stores (Santa Monica store in CA; Michigan Ave. store in Chicago; Meatpacking district store in NY; and Market St. store in SF).