'The Wrist Report' is the semi-serious, bi-somethingly bulletin from the frontier of forearm fashion and functionality.
Even earlier this month at CES it was clear that the wearables frenzy had lost some of its vigor since last year (presumedly as manufacturers try to make good on some of their overblown concept promises). Of the news that there was, it seemed that technology on the wrist was being met with much more modesty by manufacturers—Withings going simpler and cheaper with their brand activity tracker in traditional timepiece form and Swiss watchmaker Montblanc making tentative steps into the world of wearable tech by strapping a tiny OLED screen to the underside of the wrist (yeh, it looked as good as it sounds).
Fast-forward only a couple of weeks and it seems that some new entrants into the forearm function/fashion fanfare are doing away with the tech altogether. In remarkable concurrence with Debbie Chachra's article in The Atlantic critiquing the hero worship of 'makers', Portland multi-tool manufacturer and Core77 fav Leatherman is gearing up to launch a multi-tool that straps (rather proudly) around the wrist. Introducing Tread.
Weighing in at 5.3 oz (150 g), made from 17-4 stainless steel and hitting the market soon at a price of $150 (add an extra 50 bucks for the black finish), the Thread includes 25 tools squeezed into a bracelet—everything from philips and flathead screwdrivers, hex and box wrenches, a cutting knife, a carbide glass cutter and a bottle opener in the fastener—no doubt soon be the marker of a the most committed maker-movement mavericks. Whilst at first glance it looks like it might need dismantling and rearranging to metamorphosize into a workable tool, it appears (if you give the video a watch) that the tools are accessed by taking off the bracelet and squeezing the links together—forming something of a handle and making the selected tool at the top protrude for use.
Apparently, the idea for the wearable multitool came to Leatherman President Ben Rivera when on a family trip to Disneyland.
"I was stopped at the gate by security for carrying a knife, when what they had actually seen was my Skeletool. I was unwilling to give it up, so they made me take it all the way back to my hotel room. I knew there had to be another way to carry my tools with me that would be accepted by security."
On return to the office with a seed of an idea planted, Rivera took to wearing a bracelet of bike chain to see how it would feel. As the idea formed, he brought his idea to the engineers at Leatherman who helped craft the concept into something worthy of such prime wrist real-estate.
Resembling the strap of a watch, Rivera hopes that the design would now allow him to sneek his multitool past the guards at Disneyland—the video (above) even hinting (perhaps a little optimistically?) that it might make it past airport security. After wearing the prototype for a number of days, feedback from friends and family on the similarity of the wristband to the strap of a watch gave Rivera and his engineers the idea to add the extra functionality of actually including a watch face— the shock and scratch resistant Leatherman Tread QM1 watch (pictured up top) will be available by Fall, presumedly at a steeper price tag. Watch this space.
Interestingly, Tread isn't the only wristwear to be rejecting the technology evolution of the forearm in early 2015. As if the wearables bubble hadn't already descended into significant self-parody, a new launch on Kickstart—smashing it's target five-fold already with 12 days still to go—brings the whole affair to remarkable new levels of absurdity.
Flip Band is a 100% tech-free wearable (we could be pedantic about the 'tech-free'-ness of something funded online and mass manufactured but this paragraph can't take any more cynicism) that claims to help wearers achieve any goal. With a simplicity bordering on genius (though unfortunately in reality probably falling into the no-mans-land of uselessness) the Flip Band is intended to be worn (a simple black band reading 'Flip Me') to remind you of a behavior you want to practice daily. When the band finally guilt trips you into doing your push-ups, downing your wheatgrass or performing ritual self-flagellation, you simply flip the wristband to reveal the reverse green side emblazoned with a tick for some hard-earned positive reinforcement. Although clearly unnecessary nonsense—and another example of our restless self-improvement societal obsession—the Flip Band does bring the over-complexity of the world of activity trackers into some relief and may also have something important to say about ritualization (something we've been lost without since casting out religion). We'll look forward to seeing (and chuckling at) these on the street.
This forearm tech fatigue may, however, not be an entirely new phenomenon. We're reminded fondly of RearViz—the strap-on side mirrors that for bike safety—the envy of gear-obsessed Mamils everywhere.