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Apparel is next

If software can be injected into an industry’s product it will bend to the will of the software writers.

This theory expands on Marc Andreessen’s observation that “software is eating the world”. The evidence is that software, coupled with microprocessors, sensors, batteries and networking becomes applicable to an increasingly larger set of problems to be solved[1]. Software has “eaten” large portions of entertainment (e.g. Pixar, iTunes, video games), telecommunications (iPhone, Android, Messaging), various professions including journalism, management and law, and is entering transportation, energy and health care and poised over banking, finance and government.

As entry happens, asymmetries are enabled and disruption follows. This is the bending to the will of the writers–who tend not to be incumbents. The incumbents can’t embrace the changes in business models enabled by software without destroying their core businesses and thus, invariably, they disappear.

The pattern is easily observed but the speed and timing of it is difficult to predict and hence investment success is not certain.[2] There are many entrants who try and few succeed and there are many incumbents who will survive longer than a prophet can stay hungry.

Nevertheless, this process of software-induced turnover in wealth–and, incidentally, vast, additional wealth creation–is inevitable.

But can we predict anything other than timing? For example, can we predict the next industry to succumb to this force?

There is hope because the last big disruption was predictable. When looking at what caused telecom to become a domino, the pattern of development of hardware pointed the way. It was clear in the late 1990s that computers would become small enough to fit in one hand. The first instances were PDAs (mid-1990s) and once they proved valuable in solving many jobs it was easy to plot their evolution into phones.

So if we follow the “packaging” constraint, it’s clear that computers are becoming small enough to be worn. Many prototypes exist and even small companies can build them.

All that is needed is a new user interface and a new platform will be born. Once a platform is born, the creativity of millions can be unleashed to expand the problem set that can be solved. The process then repeats.

So it’s obvious that as a computer becomes wearable it will affect the industry that currently is hired to also be worn: apparel.

Apparel is the word describing every garment, shoe and accessory product sold and amounts to about $1.2 trillion/yr.[3][4] This amount of money is not spent only to protect the wearer from the elements–any more than the money spent on telecommunications is spent to convey vital information. Most of the value in apparel, perhaps 80%, is spent on solving psychological needs.

And therein lies the opportunity. As the value is beyond functional, substitution of psychological jobs by new products is a matter of engineering better solutions. Consider the behavior of US teens: anecdotally, their spending on apparel is fading as the solution to feeling good about themselves increasingly relies on a device and service. Already, in this context, apparel retail is in crisis while buying shifts to devices.

While looking at the spending, it’s also easy to see how much there is to divert from a non-functional to a functional/service bundle:

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 8-28-1.01.40 PM

In many markets individuals spend more on apparel than on personal technology. And as personal technology increasingly competes for the same jobs to be done, that spending will transfer to the entrants.

To know who’s already planning for this you can follow the trade news on the hiring of talent.

Notes:
  1. Or, put another way, is eligible to be hired to perform an increasingly large set of jobs []
  2. Which, ironically, means that the jobs of venture capitalists are still safe. At least until the theory develops to the point where it can predict with more accuracy winners and losers. []
  3. The US is about $331 billion or 28%. []
  4. The Telecom industry is slightly larger at about $1.3 trillion []
  • http://twitter.com/LunaticSX Lun Esex

    Further down the line I think transportation will follow apparel in wider consumer interest for software-driven products. Considering your Asymcar podcast, I suspect you’d agree.

    Of course in the shorter term apparel doesn’t have the same inherent dangers in it as transportation if its software malfunctions, so it faces a much lower regulatory bar for production and consumption.

    Personally I’d also be keeping my eye on energy industries as an area that will be bent even more heavily to software-driven solutions, too. (Remember when the shorthand term was “silicon” rather than “software”? If that was still the shorthand term in vogue it’d be amusing how it would have double meaning when discussing energy.)

    • stefnagel

      The mind reels at the notion of smart silicone.

      • Kizedek

        Oh no, that’s an awful notion. When a person asked if the silicon is real lies and says yes, a pinocchio effect occurs.

    • obarthelemy

      Reciprocally, the upside of smart clothes is much lower than that of smart cars, in terms of lives saved. Humans account for 90% of all road accidents. Now, i’m sure they also account for 90% of wardrobe malfunctions, but those are less dangerous, even sometimes enjoyable ?

      • Sam

        Smart cars don’t exist and won’t for a long time. All the Google PR is on dedicated track.

        10x as many people die from heart attacks as cars accidents in the US.

        Smart clothes “could” have a bigger impact.

        A smart car can’t yet tell the difference between a paper bag in the road and any other obstical, possibly swerving and killing the occupants.

        Obarth, you are such a Google fan that you don’t realize their whole point of developing an automated car is that they can show ads while they drive and collect your data.

        Some people are so naive……

      • obarthelemy

        Smart cars exist, prototypes roam the streets as we speak.
        Indeed, but…
        Smart clothes aren’t required for heart attack detection, smart bracelets and anklets suffice.
        Yes it can differentiate, I’ll let you google it.
        Smart cars !=Google, several others have road-test-worthy prototypes. Even it it were, that’s incidental progress: Google gets to show us ads, we get to get rid in whole or part of accidents, parking, premium-sites car parks, insurance, private cars, taxis, …
        Some people are so misinformed. I guess Google should be hammering that smart cars are magiiiiic !

      • professortom

        No life can be saved: it can only be prolonged.

  • John R. Moran

    Brilliant article, but I would quibble with the characterization that apparel is “hired to be worn.”

    Various apparel categories are hired for a wide variety of jobs, and to predict how technology will encroach you have to think about which jobs it will be taught to solve first.

    The most basic job of apparel – protection from the outside world – is not easy for technology to improve upon but is also actually rather small from a value perspective. Other jobs are more readily being addressed – think of the fact that headphones, which are devices to deliver audio to one’s ears, have taken on the fashion job of “signalling one’s identity.” (As an aside, I find it interesting that headphones, smartwatches, etc. would be called “accessories” in both the apparel and computing contexts).

    It occurs to me that most of the industries you cite as vulnerable to being “eaten” (entertainment, telecom, journalism, management, law, transportation, energy, health care, finance, government) are largely built around information, and software is very good at defining new solutions to information-related jobs.

    So, what are the jobs apparel is hired to do that involve information, and what categories are therefore most likely to be redefined by technology? The fashion/branding job of “signalling identity” is one, but there are others, not all of which apparel does well today. Eyewear is a category of “functional” apparel that essentially performs an information-related job. And as has been well documented, fitness apparel has long attempted and failed to better address health-related jobs that technology might be better suited to. But these are likely just the lowest-hanging fruit.

    • http://fakeapple.com Fake Tim Cook

      Currently, most apparel is not hired for jobs that involve information.

      However, we are seeing the emergence of smart-apparel that is hired to collect and communicate information.

      Not all your apparel will become smart but many people will have some smart-apparel that they wear daily or during specific activities.

      Dumb-watches, dumb-shoes, dumb-glasses, dumb-hearing-aids…
      replaced by smartwatches, smartshoes, smartglasses, smarthearing-aids…

      • John R. Moran

        I disagree, if you define information broadly. If I wear an Armani suit or a Metallica t-shirt, I am communicating something. That’s information.

        But fair to question whether that’s something that “software” is good at addressing, or just Apple, with its focus on tasteful design.

      • GogogoStopSTOP

        Ahemmmm… remind me what “smart apparel” will do for us?

      • vincent_rice

        Use your imagination. I can think of a dozen things right off the bat. Jeez, it’s like the iPad all over again…

  • Jerome

    “Most of the value in apparel, perhaps 80%, is spent on solving psychological needs.

    And therein lies the opportunity. As the value is beyond functional, substitution of psychological jobs by new products is a matter of engineering better solutions.”

    This is brilliant. I’m aware of that concept floating around vaguely, but together with the data on spending on apparel in different countries, I think you nailed it to phrase it precisely and accurately. This sort of analysis is the reason I value your blog and come back reading.

    • GogogoStopSTOP

      Correlation does not imply causality… In God we trust… All others bring data.

    • obarthelemy

      Make that 200%… gosh, I’d fell so much better naked right now…

  • stefnagel

    Smarty pants. I like it.

  • stefnagel

    Fair to say that Apple does jujitsu on mighty software? That is, software may be eating the world, but it needs hardware; electrons require atoms or they are just little tiny trees falling in the deep woods. And Apple is there to catch those little fellows with its hardware, tableware, wearware …

  • Oblomov

    Horace, weren’t banking and finance among the first industries to computerize? If so, how can they be still “poised” to do so?

    If you’re referring to a second (or later) wave, how would you characterize the difference?

    • http://fakeapple.com Fake Tim Cook

      “If software can be injected into an industry’s product it will bend to the will of the software writers.”

      In banking the first wave of computing was simply using computers to do what we’ve always done but faster and cheaper. The second, disrupting wave is when software(e.g. automated trading, PayPal, BitCoin) completely rewrites the rules of the game.

      • stefnagel

        I see it in learning curves. We sign contracts; we don’t need to learn contract law. Similarly, we will sign mobile checks; we don’t need to learn software to do so.

    • http://www.asymco.com Horace Dediu

      Note that I did not say that software is part of a company’s operations. I said software becomes a part of the product or service sold. A banking product that includes software would be something like bitcoin where the transaction is recorded in a decentralized and hence algorithmically managed ledger. Banking changes dramatically when currency is based on software.

  • GogogoStopSTOP

    Let me guess… Apple will have an App to let you know your zippers down, or her bra strap is showing… ARE YOU KIDDING Mr Dediu?

    There’s no beef in this story, unless you think software is taking over dressmaking… NOT!

    • Christian Peel

      Those are two wonderful jobs-to-be-done. I would be happy if my pants could let me know that my zipper is down.

      • obarthelemy

        is that worth more than $0.001 to you ?

      • Christian Peel

        Yes.
        Of course there are other sensors which are likely of more immediate interest, for example monitoring of health metrics (pulse, blood pressure, etc….) as described elsewhere in the article and comments.

      • obarthelemy

        issue with health stuff, is it needs to be in each and every item of clothing (all shirts, or all underwear…). Again, anklet/bracelet, even a “patch” like those nicotine things, seem a much much more rational way to do that. 1 computer instead of 10.

      • Sam

        It doesn’t need to be in every article of clothing.

        I could wear a smartwatch that takes certain measurements and a smartshirt at the gym that takes other measurements.

        I wouldn’t need to wear the smart shirt at work bc my watch collects the relevant data.

        Think of it this way, I only need my heart rate data from my smartshirt when working out at the gym, the rest of the day, my smartwatch collects other data.

        The problem is consolidating that data and keeping it private.

      • obarthelemy

        Unless you wear the same shirt at the gym every day, it needs to be all your several (one hopes) gym shirts.
        If you’re monitoring for a life-threatening condition, it needs to be on you all the time: gym or day or night…
        Think of it this way, your smart watch can perfectly collect your heart rate.
        The problem is finding the use cases where clothes make more sense than watch/anklet. I’m sure there are some, but not a lot, especially with the added size/washing constraints.
        The data problem is the same be it clothes, watches, phones, dedicated apparatus, doctors…

      • accessory

        Why did everyone start talking about clothing in this discussion thread? I presume this post, near term, was mostly about the “accessory” part of apparel.

      • http://sharonsharalike.com/ Sharon Sharalike

        Be careful walking into the wrong restroom while your pants announce “zipper’s down!” #georgemichael

    • handleym

      The way I read Horace is not that software will perform the “cover your body” function of the clothes and related matters.

      It is that people have a pool of money that they spend on certain tasks.

      A large one of those tasks is some sort of “advertising myself to the world/feeling good about myself”, which is done through clothes. If that same job could be done through mechanisms other than clothes, then some of that money might move there. To take an example (I’m just throwing out an idea now) consider in-app purchases for FaceBook that would spruce up your FaceBook page and show how you’re a person of taste and discrimination…

      There is, however, a technical problem here.

      One of the reasons fashion “works” is that there are mechanisms that enforce that the signaling is genuine. These include expensive materials and the delay in time between a new haute couture look and its knockoff. It’s hard to see what the SW equivalent of expensive materials might be, and the delay in copying a digital look can probably be crunched down to substantially less than the delay in copying a material look.

      One way I can see, conceptually, how you might do the “expensive materials” thing is something like: Miley Cyrus sells some sort of ‘Miley Cyrus is friends with xxx’ equivalent under the understanding that only 1000 (or whatever) of this “friendship” get sold.
      So you buy the Miley Cyrus platinum feed for your FaceBook page and that gets you extra tweets that aren’t in the public tweetspace, more upskirts and selfies, maybe even early demos of songs and ideas that are being floated for upcoming album/video/tour artwork?
      This feed would appear on your friend’s FaceBook pages (of course, that’s the idea, to show how cool you are) but kinda co-branded as “handleym, Miley Cyrus fan #888, presents…”

      [Just so there is no misunderstanding here, handleym would never in a million years cobrand with Miley Cyrus!]

      • obarthelemy

        You want us to shoot ourselves, right ?
        I’d hope you’re wrong.. but you’re probably right.

      • art hackett

        Don’t you think that good (or possibly any) taste, and FacePlant, are mutually exclusive?

      • obarthelemy

        Maybe, but fools easily parted from their money, overpriced brands, and FaceBook to show them off, are closely linked. It’s not about taste, it’s about being amenable to spending heavily + depending heavily on social boosters.

    • Macayabella

      THE most dangerous statement you can make is: “It’s like that because it’s always been like that”. (Or, ‘everything that can be invented, has been’).

      Instead of shooting off trite, unthoughtful statements, as you just have, you should stop and think some more. There is far more to what Dediu is saying than what you have chosen to see…

  • obarthelemy

    Well, in-clothes computers have to become not only “wearable”, but “washable and dryable”. I’m wondering if “in-skin” computers wouldn’t actually be easier to make than “in-clothes” ones.

    I’m wondering about use cases though, until they can graft a display onto our retinas, and a keyboard on our forearms. In-clothes/skin looks like a whole lot a trouble and constraints for very little gain compared to a bracelet/anklet.

    • obarthelemy

      Oh, and glasses ^^

  • SockRolid

    I wonder what the per-capita US apparel number would be without Nike.
    And does that number include sunglasses (e.g. $200 Oakley, Ray-Ban, etc.)

  • SockRolid

    “Already, in this context, apparel retail is in crisis while buying shifts to devices.”

    Maybe Angela Ahrendts will have something to say about that. I’m pretty sure she was hired for more than just merchandising and branding expertise. She was the CEO of Burberry, and successfully turned around its decline, so she also knows how to hire and manage apparel design talent. (And maybe Jony “t-shirt and jeans like Simon Cowell” Ive doesn’t.)

  • poke

    Personal computers are first and foremost screens. It’s the screen and not the microprocessor that makes them a medium of representation. It’s because they’re a medium that they require content. It’s the requirement for content that makes the platform. Microprocessors have other uses, and it might make sense to put a microprocessor in a pair of shoes, but it doesn’t make sense to make shoes a platform for content (apps). Shoes don’t represent anything. Whatever wearables are, they’re not going to be platforms.

    • David Leppik

      Clearly you’ve never heard of platform shoes. :-)

      Seriously, though; kids sneakers have had colored LEDs for several years now, and there are novelty t-shirts which light up when a wi-fi hotspot is nearby, or with embedded musical instruments. And Polo is showing of t-shirts that measure heart rate. None of these have screens.

      It’s only a matter of time before designers find more serious (I’d say non-novelty, but a trend is just a novelty that isn’t funny) uses for fiber optic threads. There’s a lot you could do with a programmable platform without a screen.

    • gcaus

      There are many ways to communicate other than via a screen, and some of us will prove this soon, with wearables. Sight is over-used at the moment to receive communication. I believe, soon, touch will add another dimension. Your body becomes the screen. I’m not saying the sight is going to be replaced, but many things can be delivered via vibration, sound, etc…A vibration on one part of the body can be meaning specific.

    • chano1

      But, what about platform shoes, huh?

      • chano1

        Oh no! Mr. Leppik wiz here first,

    • SubstrateUndertow

      A platform in its most generic form is defined by a set of recombinant building blocks on top of which one can build out a much larger array things/processes.

      If we visualize a human as a platform for volitional-control that perceives /analyses/rearranges its external world in order to survive then that survival-platform has three major pools of recombinant building blocks/processes.

      1- perceptually(data sensing) recombinant building blocks/processes
      2- analytic/memory recombinant building blocks/processes
      3- actuator building blocks/processes

      Even without a screen many recombinant component from category #1 #2 and #3 can be built into clothing as McLuhan-esque extensions to that human volitional-control survival platform.

      Does that count towards platform potential ?

  • John R. Moran

    Relevant New York Times article published today: “Plugged In Over Preppy: Teens Favor Tech Over Clothes”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/business/less-prep-more-plugs-teenagers-favor-tech-over-clothes.html?_r=0

    • http://www.asymco.com Horace Dediu

      I guess you did not notice the link in the article.

      • John R. Moran

        Nope – apologies!

      • Craig

        I didn’t either! Your hyperlinks are almost invisible to me — colour is almost identical to regular text.

  • chano1

    You are missing the biggest issue of all here. Hidden in plain sight, it is the unintended consequence of software and automation encroachment on jobs and employment. This is a trend that is about to enter force majeure status and the implications for human life and the wealth of nations are a disaster of catastrophic proportions.
    Conducting this orchestra of unhappiness: MBAs, management consultants and accountants.
    It’s sad.
    So sad.
    It’s a sad, sad situation….
    sorry seems to be …. und so weiter…

    • SubstrateUndertow

      Lots of turmoil ahead for sure!

      On the other hand necessity is the mother of invention and we are being swamped with all manner of new networked tools and possibilities to solve our production/consumption cyclical-stasis conundrum.

      Even if your right and it is all hopeless what should we do then?
      “carry on as it that were not true”
      - H.G. Wells

  • http://www.davyde.net davidex

    As an Italian, I never expected Italy to be that high in that apparel consumption ranking.

    The fact the Italy is also one of the countries with the highest ratio of mobile subscriptions per person maybe could make this “transitional analysis” way easier for my country.

  • moocer

    I think the main reason apparel has been targeted is that it’s a completely open market. There are almost no incumbents with such strong brands that they cannot be quickly overwhelmed. And there are countless incumbents who are already teetering on the precipice of fashion – one little shove and their market is yours.

    Compare with education. Software is rapidly transforming this industry. MOOCs offer classes like text books; 1 teacher to 1 million pupils instead of 1 teacher to 20 pupils. Currently nations’ total spend on education is enormous, a major part of the budget. But the incumbents (teachers, unions, schools) are extremely powerful, monopolistic and highly regulated. So nations, who in general pay the bills, are being extremely slow in adopting the very obvious advantages of MOOCs, despite the enormous cost advantages on offer.

    • charly

      Education is a lot closer to on “jail for kids” than teaching alone so i don’t see the massive cost saving

      • moocer

        You would see the cost-saving from the other side if you ever taught anyone anything for money. Or indeed if you’ve ever paid for education as an adult. Every teacher becomes quickly aware of the economy of scale argument. You can just about make a living teaching one-on-one classes. If you take it to the next level and get small classes together (or indeed are employed by a school), you can make a decent living. If you’re as good at business as you are at teaching and get a full week of large classes (or open a “school”), you can make a very good living. If have a set of popular online classes you will be able make a fortune (like you can if you write a popular text book). You will put some bad teachers out of business and help other less qualified teachers to become “educational facilitators”.
        For the section of teaching devoted to kids, there’s some truth in the jailor idea – but you don’t really need a qualified teacher to supervise 20 kids, and my guess this will change over time, but slowly, and the first countries to leap frog the West will be those with currently very poor education systems.

  • katherine anderson

    Women have always known that Fashion and Apparel are subjects too easily dismissed as trivial … one of the reasons why there’s such a wealth of material still waiting to be mined and examined.

    But now that you’ve opened up the subject, Horace, (AsymCloth?) perhaps some of your more imaginative (and I think almost exclusively male) readers and listeners will be surprised to learn where their insights might lead.

    Let me toss this out. One of the most distinctive features of the fashion/apparel business and the technology device business is its planned obsolescence, an obsolescence that pivots around newness and depends on the desire of the consumer to acquire each new mode.

    But this consumer relationship is characteristic of Western fashion and not necessarily other fashion systems around the globe, which are in their own unique ways dynamic, changing, modifying and adapting. The sari is still as alive as it ever was; the kurta is an adapted Westernized form of it, the choice for students and working women. Islamic dress has many adaptations; there’s the traditional, but dynamic dress of West and East Africa, and so much more. And in a globally connected world, Western and indigenous fashion systems are not mutually exclusive.

    Is this one of Angela Arendt’s mandates, perhaps, to help steer Apple through the peculiarities of Western “fashion,” in the sense of ensuring that the value of older/established devices like the iMac carry on, like the modified garments of indigenous fashion? (Take a look at what she did to invigorate the 100+ year-old Burberry trench coat.) I don’t believe visionary business leaders want to run businesses that depend on the consumer’s desire to acquire each new mode, product or device. That’s not the way to a better world.
    But that aside, as technology influences social behaviour, and in turn is shaped by it, fashion also influences social behaviour, and likewise is also shaped by it, a process that moves up from the street, and down from the heights of couture.

    smart cloth = interactive garments; traditional materials + digital technologies; Apple + the World = the prospect of a new fashion system

    • obarthelemy

      Business Leaders, visionary or not, don’t want a better world. They want more money (fame, power) for themselves, which usually is achieved via more money for their shareholders. Even most politicians don’t set out to better the world, and they are supposed to be vastly more public-spirited than business leaders.
      Any public progress achieved is purely incidental.

      • katherine anderson

        Yes I look forward to the day when business is freed from the dominance of the finance managers. Meantime, lots of business leaders love business for the sheer love of being a part of making things, and making things happen. It’s just part of the creative impulse. And when its an enterprise grows wealth and more jobs for people, it can go a long way (after God) to satisfying the needs of the spirit.

      • SubstrateUndertow

        True but too myopic/cynical !

        Our emerging network-synchronized environment, with its much more interdependent social stasis, will most likely force pure power/wealth driven bussiness motivations into a more organically profitable compromise with global social needs/demands.

        Even corporations will, in the long run, have a very hard time opting out of accelerating rights/responsibility interdependencies brought on by a network-synchronized environment.

        History may repeat itself but their are major inflection points and global algorithm-driven networked-everything is certainly one of them!

      • obarthelemy

        I’m not sure there’s any correlation between IT progress and societal progress, nor “responsibility” of corps.
        Neither a better flow of information, nor the wider availability of data or its processing change things by themselves, and the same mechanisms that make “true” data and analysis available also make propaganda and lies easier to propagate.
        Is there any Fortune 500 company that hasn’t been embroiled in a morally or legally reprehensible scandal over the last 10 years ? Do you think there’ll be fewer of them in the next 10 ?

      • Walt French

        “I’m not sure there’s any correlation between IT progress and societal progress…”

        I assert/believe/hope that there is.

        After its beginnings in the war industry, IT has been employed primarily to make the businesses of the world more productive: e.g., to have more people using a product instead of sitting on shelves in a store that isn’t moving it. That means fewer dollars tied up in inventory, and hours of work being spent instead producing something that people actually chose.

        And in our third wave (?), IT now lets you discover that industrious people in Korea are happy to make a phone you want to buy, whereas those in India, equally ambitious and maybe better-educated, are still struggling with inefficiencies.

        My whole career (econ consulting, data services, investment management) has been spent in selling information that is more freely available, and better understood, than ever. My successors will have a harder time charging for a ubiquitous flow of information, with fewer bottlenecks to fair, honest commerce.

        Google makes its living in the same way: selling people the information and products they’re looking for, in the form of an elevated price of those products (the fraction of your phone purchase that the manufacturer spent on advertising). As business nears commodity status, the profits of big corporations falls, too; eventually, the expectations for the ridiculous gross margins earned by a few players in each industry (e.g., Google, Intel, Microsoft, Apple), themselves become at risk.

        Breakthroughs are great, but the wave of them we’ve seen in silicon are unlikely to persist, and when profits instead reward those who reduce frictions between makers and consumers, the economy can grind ahead more smoothly.

        Is any of this motivated by corporations wishing to do well? No; it’s simply that in the world with more windows, scummy behavior is harder to carry out.

      • obarthelemy

        But can you **prove** there is ?
        We’d first have to come up with a definition of “progress”, which is a doozy in itself. A History teacher told me that Life Expectancy is a viable, very barebones measure (encapsulates health, wars, a bit of economic conditions…). In the 30 yrs since 1980 (arguably, the begin of the IT revolution), life expectancy in the US has risen by 5 yrs. In the 30 yrs before that, it had risen by 5.5. and in the **20** yrs before those, by 8.5. It’s rising more slowly, and probably not because of a ceiling effect (it’s 78 yrs in the US, 95 in Monaco).
        In the same vein, The Economist ran a fascinating piece a few years back (early naughts ? late 90s ?), where they dissected that all the productivity increase that could be ascribed to IT happened… at IT companies.

      • Walt French

        The open exchange of ideas, and individuals’ ability to act on them, is a fundamental tenet of western liberalism, and the antithesis of fundamentalism, traditional kleptocracies, etc.

        If you think we’d do better under some theocratic dictator telling you what you can study in school, what you can say in public, what food you may eat, when you will pay obeisance to which God, … , you have lots of examples to choose from.

        There are lots of problems in US and European societies, including our willingness to engage in horrific wars against ourselves and others. None of those faults seem to have been caused by the free & open flow of information; quite the contrary—the dirty work is lies and breaking of social norms and starts out, anyway,in the dark.

      • obarthelemy

        Your first paragraph has little to do with IT. Your second neither, and tries to make me up as advocating totalitarianism, which isn’t even the subject (and I am not). As for fundamentalism and kleptocracy, there’s something to be said that they’re as alive and well including in western democracies since IT came up.

        Wars are an issue only in the US, of late. I’d argue they’re not even the biggest one there. The free & open flow of information (like I assume, “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction”) doesn’t seem to have mattered that much.

        I’ve tried to come up with an objective measure of “progress” to see if there’s any correlation with IT (whi is not causation, but it’s a start). If you answer with dogma, ad hominem and gratuitous assertions, there’ s no discussion to be had.

  • http://search.websonar.com:8080/ Duane Bemister

    Software doesn’t necessarily have to be embedded in the fabric to disrupt the status quo. As Horace has previously described in one of his podcasts; shopping has been disrupted many times during the last Century; from the rural company store, to the Sears catalogue, to large department stores, to shopping malls and now online. This evolution has given the shopper more choice and cheaper products but at a price. It is getting difficult to find quality sustainable products that are produced without exploiting resources or workers.
    For example a small Canadian startup I’m associated with, Muse Clothing Company has recently setup a unique online store, combined with local sales agents, that intends to eliminate the overhead cost and current lack of stock problems enherent with retail stores, while providing both quality and choice to the consumer, as well as local employment opportunities in manufacturing and sales.

  • katherine anderson

    “Most of the value in apparel, perhaps 80% is spent on solving psychological needs.”

    Perhaps a portion of the other 20% of money spent on Apple’s new wrist wearable will be spent by senior citizens to convey vital information about their actual physical needs.

    The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has more members (37 million) than the entire population of Canada (35 million). I believe it is the largest membership organization in the US.

    Here’s one thing I’m hoping to learn on 9/9 about the new wrist wearable:

    That it will offer me and my aged mother the security of knowing that if she falls on the ice and snow, or worse is knocked down by a reckless youth out to steal her purse, that a sensor measuring impact will set off an alarm and will automatically connect her to a first responder (paramedic), and through voice messaging allow her to describe the symptoms of any possible injury.

    I would also hope that merchants nearby would be equipped through their beacons to receive automatic notification (and authentication) of an emergency outside, and that they could offer assistance until help arrives.

    (Will be pleased to see it named the “iRing,” because it invokes completeness, the good infinity of the circle, and the Ring of the new Apple campus.)

    • LRLee

      iRing to rule them all?

      • katherine anderson

        No; Apple would bring good meaning back to the Ring, and end its association with The Dark Lord.

  • Agatha

    Thank you so much for your article, Horace. What’s your data source of the per capita spending on apparel?

  • blenheimorange

    Thanks for the illuminating article. Any specific use (apart from wrist computers for health & fitness) relating more directly to the garment trade? I really cannot see how fashion industry can be software-ized. We talk of sciences merging with the arts in the unique development culture at Apple but geeks and fashion do not mix. Steve Jobs himself wore nothing but a uniform of black turtle neck, jeans and New Balance running shoes. World of information and its computation connects with fashion in certain very specific areas. Fashion is the cut, colour, texture and nature of material employed, mixed in a culturally appealing way of the time. What can software do in this area? I can only think labelling of fashion items for sales and tracking purposes. This information will also be useful for the customer to track one’s purchases over the years and of course for the retailer to suggest new products. Oh yes and of course the solar panels stitched onto the back of jackets.

    • http://www.asymco.com Horace Dediu

      I’m not suggesting that software can be injected into every or even most garments. What I’m suggesting is that the reasons people spend money on garments may change and perhaps they will buy fewer of them. Think of it not as a disruption that replaces clothes but as something that reduces the purchase of superfluous clothes. Perhaps another example can help: When computers came to be injected into what was at the time “radio” (or consumer audio equipment) the result was not the elimination of radios (or amplifiers, turntables, cassette players and CD players) but the creation of iTunes and streaming. You would have a hard time imagining what a computer inside a radio would be good for, but that’s not the way disruptions happen.

      • blenheimorange

        I can see that as human interactions becomes more virtual and less face to face we need to dress up less. Just interested in what grand plan Tim Cook et al are working on with all the talent from the fashion industry. Suppose we’ll know soon enough.

      • katherine anderson

        And I believe the explosion of the “maker” culture, including the knit cafes, the thriving thrift shops, the street fashion journals, is further evidence of the disruption.

        People who lead the way in style and inventiveness of dress (that the trendiest apparel manufacturers strive to copy) take their inspiration from their thrift shop finds, re-fashioning and recycling them.

        The sentiments sound cliched … but the concern for the sustainability of the planet, decreasing the foot-print and all that, is not a passing fad.

      • blenheimorange

        On further reflection, perhaps Apple is about to make forays into the luxury fashion sector. iPhones made of precious alloys or metals such as platinum, gold, liquid metal etc. Ultra top end iPhone, iWatches, iWearablewhatevers would certainly be the kind of products that the newly employed fashionistas are there for? After having bought one of these items there certainly won’t be any money left to buy a pair of fancy undergarment. A disruption of a kind.

    • StevenDrost

      “I really cannot see how fashion industry can be software-ized.” Let’s look at automobiles. Mobile devices with internet connections make it easier to either share a car like Zipcar or request a driver like Uber. People need transportation, not a car and these services provide a better option to many. Services based off the internet are swallowing up every major industry (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify).

      It’s hard to see the utility of adding a CPU to my shirt, but what if the connected devices we carry change clothes from a thing we buy to a service we subscribe to? These devices know our schedules, when we need a suit and when to skip the tie on casual Friday. When we are going to a wedding, going out dancing or the beach. Increasingly we are already not buying the clothes at a physical retail store, maybe the next step is we don’t buy clothes at all.

      • blenheimorange

        Do follow your point and also the analogy of Uber and Zipcar’s influence on motoring but think this abstraction is being stretched a tad too far. We can see now that the reason the fashion big guns were hired was for Apple to make a foray into the luxury market where the margins are very generous. If a company can make a mass market Hermes or LVMH of computing, Apple is the one. Not Samedung, Hemorrhoids, or any of the Chinese enterprises.

  • katherine anderson

    The last few days have been an Apple real-time drama that just happens to use real-life as the stage. (Apple brings a whole new level of entertainment value to business!)

    Anyone can follow the leads (links) from the leaks (like clues in a puzzle), using the internet as the tool.

    Marc Newson leads to his design and manufacture of time pieces; Marc Newson and Jony Ive together leads to their curating the Southby’s (Red) auction last November , which leads to many more links, including Marc Newson’s relationship with the Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaia.

    In addtion to his beautifully crafted clothes for women, Alaia stands out for resisting the planned obsolescence that prevails in the fashion industry, the pressures of year to year, season to season styling changes. He doesn’t have fashion shows very often, and when he does, he has something to show, something that will last.