Pictured above is the Hexoskin Smart Shirt. It can measure your breathing, heart rate and movement, and links up to a companion app via Bluetooth. Using the information it's gathered, it can tell you things like calories burned, the intensity of your workout and the effort you've put in. As far as sleep goes, it can tell you when and how many times you almost woke up prematurely, as well as when you tossed and turned and how intensely. It's also compatible with Strava, Runkeeper, Runtastic, Endomondo, and MapMyRun. The battery lasts a whopping 30 hours, meaning that even full-day use won't kill it before you get home for the night. It does all this through a comfortable top made of Italian fabric that won't hinder movement and can be used for contact sports. Most fitness trackers won't boast that last advantage, but that's not all that smart clothing has to offer.
While a fitness tracker winds up on your wrist and does all of its work from there, that's not the ideal place to obtain rich and accurate data. Fitbit learned this the hard way; through a lawsuit. Monitoring done closer to the source can be much more accurate and provide a lot more data. For example, a smart shirt can place a sensor right over your heart to give a completely accurate pulse measurement, as well as measuring your muscle movement, breathing and the amount of sweat you secrete to gauge whether you're really feeling the burn or just going through the motions of your same old workout with your gym buddies. Smart shorts, on the other hand, can measure leg movement during runs and bike rides, as well as muscle contractions in the legs, to allow for a total picture of what's happening during your workout. A fitness tracker would likely not be able to tell you that you're stepping light on your right foot and your gait is wasting energy as a result, or that your improper breathing technique is killing your aerobics session. Naturally, a wealth of information is then available about how long you should take to recover and what you should be doing during that time. Another advantage of smart clothing is that it can, for the most part, be put into the wash like normal clothing once the sensors are taken off. Whether magnetic, velcro or otherwise, if the sensors are removable, the clothing itself is likely able to be washed.
Smart clothing, of course, can also perform functions that fitness trackers just weren't designed for, rather than just beating them at their own game. For starters, you have Samsung's clothing line, the humanfit, introduced at CES. A smart suit with NFC tags, a fitness tracking Body Compass that is advanced enough to track muscle contractions and a Smart Swing shirt that helps your golf game. These are features you're not likely to find on a run-of-the-mill fitness tracker like the Xiaomi Mi Band 1S. Naturally, this goes to show that fitness is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smart clothing. One example of this is the Owlet Smart Sock, a gadget that's basically a fitness tracker for babies; it monitors heart rate and sleep quality to assure caregivers that a child is getting good rest and nothing's up with their heart.
Future applications could go far beyond all of that, of course. There is already talk of full-body VR rigs using smart clothing that allows a user to move within a certain range and their movements to be put into the game as input. With tech on the horizon that can make a flexible LCD go rigid when electricity hits it, it's not a stretch to think the same could be done to a fabric to act as a breathing guide of sorts. A breathing aid for medical purposes and a proper breathing guide for athletes and singers are just some of the possibilities there. Perhaps there could be smart gloves that could stand up to impact and help boxers and MMA fighters with their punching technique could pair up with smart socks and pants in the same vein. Smart headgear that could monitor brain waves to help out migraine and seizure patients is also a possibility. The applications for smart clothing that a fitness tracker just couldn't hope to match are huge, perhaps even nigh-endless.