Intel’s CEO Envisions A Future Where Wearables Don’t Look Like Wearables — And It’s Not That Far Away

brian-krzanichIntel CEO Brian Krzanich foresees a day when a wearable is no longer seen a one-size-fits-all device that you put on your wrist. That day could be coming sooner rather than later, as Intel-based wearable products will likely be shown off in the coming weeks at New York Fashion Week.

“Wearables” is still a nascent product category, but one that Intel has a vested interest in. After all, the company acquired wearable maker Basis for around $100 million earlier this year.

Intel isn’t alone, however. Everyone from major consumer electronics manufacturers like Samsung and LG to startups like Pebble and Meta, are seeking to create “smart” devices that users can wear.

For the most part, wearables have been split into one of two camps — those targeted at users who want to better connect with and get notifications from their mobile phones and other devices, and others for tracking their activity and fitness levels.

Basis is in that latter category. It is best known for making a smart-watch looking device that tracks a wide range of fitness data, including steps, sleep quality, heart rate, and amount of time spent active during the day. As a result, it generally produces a much more comprehensive data set than most competing wearable products on the market today — after all, the Fitbit Flex, Nike Fuelband, Misfit Shine, and others mostly focus on counting steps and leave things at that.

The $150 Basis B1 had a couple of downsides, however. For one thing, it was bulkier than most of the other fitness trackers out there, and it also had issues with battery life.

The biggest issue with the Basis device, however, might just be that it wasn’t exactly attractive to anyone who cared very much about the fashion of what they wore on their wrist. Unlike the sleek design of the Fitbit or Misfit products, it was too obtrusive to be seen as an accessory. Meanwhile, anyone with a love of watches would dismiss it as a possible replacement due to its design aesthetic.

Intel didn’t buy Basis for its design chops, however. The company was interested in acquiring the smarts built into that device, and making it available to others. At a dinner last week with a handful of press, Krzanich explained the company’s plans to unleash the technology beyond its existing hardware and open up a whole new generation of wearables with partners.

“If you take a look at [the Basis B1], the sensor technology is superb. If you look at their hardware data relative to any of the other hardware data out there, it’s fantastic,” Krzanich said. “They’ve spent a huge amount of time engineering all of the motion of steps and whatever you want to do, and it’s done a very good job of doing that.”

There will be another version of the Basis device coming later this year, Krzanich confirmed at the dinner. The bigger opportunity for Intel and for the industry as a whole, however, could come from working with partners to get that technology embedded into new and different form factors.

“We have a great back end, and a great set of sensors, and all of those things are transferrable to almost any device,” he told attendees. And, well, making its technology available to third parties is what Intel does best.

“I still don’t want to be in the device business. We always do best when we partner,” Krzanich said.

So what kind of partners are we talking about? Surprisingly, it might not be the type of deep-tech consumer electronics brands that you might expect. Instead, it seems like Intel is working with a number of partners that could make wearables more like fashion accessories.

Krzanich said to expect some things from Intel at New York Fashion Week, which begins next weekend and extends through the following week. And Krzanich teased that whatever products are put on display will look more like a fashion accessory than what most users have come to think of as wearables today.

“Watches are like clothes. And all of these wearables, they’re not that different from clothes. So there’s not going to be one pattern or style that fits all,” he said.

That’s important to keep in mind, especially as Intel thinks about opening up a broader market of consumers to buy these products. Most women might scoff at the idea of wearing a Basis watch in its current incarnation, but Krzanich notes that women wear a lot of jewelry — like necklaces and bangles — in which the same sort of “smart” technology could be embedded.

It’ll all depend on the form factor of course, but it seems like only a matter of time before wearables are no longer synonymous with wrist bands. And Intel wants to be there when that happens.