The wearable computer is right up there with the flying car in its mythical status among tech gurus. As computers have slimmed down from the size of rooms to the size of novels and further, future-looking pundits have continually predicted that computers would become so unobtrusive they could be worn as clothing. The imaginary benefits are endless: Surf the web through LCD-display glasses; dictate e-mails through a discrete microphone and voice recognition software; play games with a glove that detects your hand movements.
As with the flying car, we’re still not there yet. However, Zegna Sport’s Bluetooth iJacket may approach the kind of functionality we expect out of these future wearable computers, in a more limited capacity. It won’t let you run your business or battle virtual trolls while you walk down the street, but it will put your music and cell phone at your fingertips without ever reaching for a pocket.
Zegna Sport has released a similar iPod-controlling jacket before, but the Bluetooth-enabled iJacket will be the first to mash together control for both an iPod and a cell phone in the same jacket. Using headphones plugged into an iPod, users can listen as they normally would to music using the jacket’s integrated controls. When a call comes through, the iJacket automatically dips the iPod’s volume so a user can answer the phone through a Bluetooth microphone in the collar. Since the built-in controls don’t include a numeric touchpad, it also allows users to dial outgoing calls with voice recognition.
A control panel on the sleeve of the otherwise normal-looking textile jacket is the only stylistic cue that betrays its alternate purpose besides providing warmth and protection from the elements. The flexible patch of material has embossed buttons for volume, play, pause, and other standard functions, all of which operate exactly like their hard plastic counterparts. A company called Elekson Group supplies the unique ElekTex fabric that makes these soft controls possible.
The result is a jacket that mimics the effortless communication of a Star Trek tricorder, but that still wouldn’t look out of place in the trendiest streets in SoHo. The iJacket even strives for durability: all of its electronic components are thermally sealed in waterproof compartments, meaning you can toss it in the wash without any special treatment. Just don’t forget to take out your cell phone and iPod.
Not surprisingly, rolling all the style of a fine garment and the sophistication of modern electronic gadgetry into one package doesn’t come cheap. The jacket retails for $1,700 USD. At that price, you could probably afford to pick up a high-end Italian suit and top-of-the-line Bluetooth headset separately with money to spare, but they still wouldn’t quite combine with the same refinement the iJacket offers. If money isn’t an issue and you’re looking for a garment to keep you both warm and wired, the Zenga Sport’s Bluetooth iJacket may be worth looking into.