Levi’s and Google Team Up on Smart Sleeve, But Why?

Levi’s denim smart sleeve jacket targets bike riders, carries $350 price tag, includes Bluetooth pairing technology to keep them connected while cruising.

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Levi's and Google have launched the Commuter Trucker jacket, complete with "smart sleeve" and a $350 price tag.

Remember when riding your bike represented an escape of sorts from all your worries and, in particular, all your technology—and that was a good thing? Well, Levi’s and Google have teamed up to create the $350 Commuter Trucker smart sleeve jacket that comes complete with touch-sensitive fabric and a so-called “smart sleeve” that gives bike riders the power to stay connected by swiping and tapping on their left cuffs even when they’re weaving through pedestrians and riding along country roads.

I’m not necessarily a jean jacket sort of guy and it’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a bike, so clearly I’m not the target audience for the Commuter Trucker jacket. Even if I were a bike rider and a jean jacket wearer, I’m wondering how I’d justify spending the extra $200 compared to the “dumb” normal version of this item. Do I really need to be connected to my phone ALL the time?

Levi’s and Google are proud of the design of the Commuter Trucker jacket and Levi’s officials say some designer jean jackets can cost upwards of $400, so the price tag on this jacket isn’t outlandish. Again, though, I keep going back to the question, “who really needs this?”

Sure, it’s cool what technology can do. I never thought I’d ever be living in a world when driverless cars were a real thing being tested on actual roads near me. Project Jacquard, which is the name of the process that led to the Levi’s Commuter Trucker jacket, focused on how make fabric touch-sensitive, like the screen on your phone. The result is a sleeve with threads that look a bit like a guitar fret.

“We wanted to make a garment, not a gadget,” says Ivan Poupyrev, the person in charge of Google’s side of the project, to The Verge.

If the “smart sleeve” isn’t strange enough, the Commuter Trucker jacket also requires a small Bluetooth dongle—still one of the words in this industry that makes me laugh every time I read, hear or say it—that attaches to a button that communicates with your iPhone or Android device.

The smart sleeve connects to an app on your phone that allows wearers to brush in, brush out and double-tap the jacket to trigger various actions. Holding your hand on the fabric shuts the phone off.

The Jacquard system can automatically tell when you’re wearing the smart sleeve jacket, then sets up your phone to a biking mode. It reads texts aloud either through the phone itself or through your headphones. Perhaps the biggest surprise: you can put this jacket in the washing machine and dryer without ruining the circuitry inside.

Riders can reach over and brush their sleeves to interact with their phones and get audio cues. It’s certainly a lot safer than fiddling with your actual touchscreen while you ride, but how many people are truly going to want to wear a denim smart sleeve jacket while riding a bike anyway?

I will never stop marveling at the possibilities of technology and the creativity someone can bring to our world that allows them to not only imagine the possibility of something, but to actually create the thing. But there seems to be more and more products every day that I wonder why we need, most of them related to being constantly connected or automating seemingly simple tasks.

You can probably guess I’m not a smart home guy—and I can assure you I won’t be first in line for a smart sleeve, either. That’s not to say I don’t have my technological vices, though. I never thought I’d be one of those guys who was scrolling through his phone all the time. I still try to keep some times tech-free or largely so, such as when I’m at Fenway Park. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that as a new technology to keep fans connected seems to come out every day.

I’ll be happy to check out your smart sleeve and marvel at its ingenuity, certainly, but it’s just not for me. The closest I can picture myself embracing technology in clothes are my Cole Haah dress shoes that have sneaker soles. I wonder if Westbury’s Brock McGinnis, the guy who introduced them to me, or Omega Audio Video’s Matt Scott will grab a Commuter Trucker jacket and set another industry fashion trend?