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5 ways to be a stylish cyborg

Mark and Vanessa Kenney of Mooresville visited the Apple Store at Northlake Mall to shop for a pair of Apple Watches.
Mark and Vanessa Kenney of Mooresville visited the Apple Store at Northlake Mall to shop for a pair of Apple Watches. ksullivan@charlotteobserver.com

Mark Kenney uses his smartphone in blocks of minutes. To use it, he reaches in his pocket or first has to track it down. By the time he reads an email, maybe a minute or two have passed.

A smart watch, a wearable technology that puts apps on the face of a wrist piece, will probably allow him to check a message or get other data in seconds, he guesses.

“When you get that little tactile (alert) that you’ve got a text message, it’s this,” he says, dropping his head to glance at his wrist, “and then you can go on with your conversation or whatever.”

So the Mooresville resident visited Northlake Mall’s Apple Store last Saturday morning to order two watches. One is for him, the other for his wife, Vanessa. It’s scheduled to arrive on April 24.

Consumers like Kenney are testing the theory that the next big market for personal technology is wearables – gadgets that give us an even closer connection to the digital world and the data in it.

Google wasn’t quite successful at converting us to cyborgs through Google Glass; it stopped producing the prototype earlier this year. The glasses gave wearers access to some Android smartphone-like features within their field of vision. But many people thought it was creepy to be multitasking in that way when you should be just talking to someone.

Smart watches seem to be getting better traction, and they’re already arriving at the retail level. There are lots of options for different features among the brands. On the wrist, the designs are unobtrusive, and many cater to one’s sense of fashion and style.

Technology giants are also betting big on smart tech jewelry and accessories. If that catches on, it may eventually seem gauche to walk around carrying a smartphone instead of responding to a message on a ring or bracelet plated in precious metal.

Apple Watch (eight models from $349-$12,000) customers will choose from stylish 18-karat rose and yellow gold models with leather or sports bands and sleek modern buckles among others. Rather than competing with chunky sports watches made to resist sweat and look rugged, the new device will rival luxury watches.

Samsung Gear 2 ($149-$199) and Gear Neo smart watches are already on the market with sports tracker technology. The watches are inherently geeky, but the design is sleeker and more tailored and they are deceptively powerful with up to four gigabytes of storage. From your wrist, you can indulge in hands-free calling, change the channel on your television or access an exercise coach.

The new Mira Fitness Tracker and bracelet ($169) was designed as the stylish female’s answer to the Fitbit. The device was fully funded on Kickstarter in January and includes a free app that tracks steps, calories and a variety of activities. It’s available for preorder.

You’ll be able to shop for Ringly (starting at $195) a smart device in a cocktail ring, in stores soon, but for now, it’s available online at shopbop.com. The makers of the ring are being hailed by fashion magazines.

Men have the benefit of keeping their devices in their pockets, so they don’t miss notifications. Women usually store their phones in a purse, which means they can miss calls, texts and emails. Ringly addresses this by emitting a series of flashes and beeps to keep you from missing calls and notifications if your phone is in your purse or pants pocket. Just gaze at your precious or semi-precious stone ring set in an 18-karat gold plated brass setting. Notification lights are shown through a small gemstone on the side of the ring.

Viawear has enhanced its line of smart bracelets. The Tyia now has technology that synchronizes with mobile phones (preorder, $239 to $269) to provide digital notifications. Track activities and access a health monitor through an associated app, but few will suspect that the pattern encrusted with diamonds dangling from your wrist is stealth technology.

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