Under Armour: In the next few years, all our products will be smart

Connected apparel "isn't far away," says Robin Thurston, chief digital officer of the fitness apparel and accessories company.

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Roger Cheng
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Under Armour's Chief Digital Officer, Robin Thurston, talks about the idea of connected smart products. CTIA

LAS VEGAS -- Under Armour has its eye on wearable technology.

Within the next few years, every product made by the Baltimore sports apparel and accessory company will "have something smart in it," according to Robin Thurston, chief digital officer of Under Armour. That could include biometric sensors, temperature control and even lighting.

"We believe everything will be smart in the future," Thurston said in his keynote address at the CTIA Wireless industry trade show on Friday.

Under Armour's interest in the area underscores the broader industry push to make wearable technology -- or the idea that your watch and even your pants can be outfitted with sensors that communicate with your devices -- the next big trend after smartphones. It's an area that's drawn in players ranging from Fitbit with its motion trackers to Apple and Samsung with their high-end smartwatches.

Thurston didn't make any product announcements at the keynote, but he hinted at connected apparel, saying, "it's not that far away."

There are challenges to embedding sensors and other technology into clothing, he said. Under Armour has to deal with issues such as comfort, whether the sensors can handle a washing machine and battery life.

Under Armour has a mixed track record with wearable tech, including pushing its Armour39 chest strap with heart monitor and Armour39 watch. The company presented the products as sports accessories for dedicated athletes, but neither performed particularly well. More recently, Under Armour made a push into the software side, acquiring programs such as fitness tracking app MapMyFitness, which was co-founded by Thurston.

Thurston also weighed in on 5G wireless technology, which was a big topic of conversation at the trade show.

The advent of the technology will bring higher speeds and more responsiveness, allowing for real-time wireless feedback from sensors worn during games or workouts. There's still too much of a lag with today's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technologies for those to work satisfactorily, Thurston said.

Verizon aims to begin field trials of the next-generation wireless technology within the next year, which would make it the world's first carrier to seriously move into 5G. The company expects "some level of commercial deployment" to begin by 2017, though others in the industry have been looking toward the 2020 time frame.