Wearables… You aren’t what you wear
Wearables are set to change everything. Just not you. In the wake of CES 2015, Andy Marken reports on a growing industry.
I’m not sure what I like most about attending CES. It could be figuring out what new insanely neat technology or product is going to be the ‘gotta have’ toy next Christmas, or it could be seeing all the folks hell-bent on keeping their New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get back into shape.
But this year, both of these centered on one word: ‘wearables’.
Yes, they were a hot item at last year’s show. In fact, depending on who you believe, between 71 million (Canalys) and 90 million (ABI Research) wearable devices were sold around the world in 2014.
But, according to Gary Shapiro, the president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA – the organiser of CES), 2015 is the year wearables will come to the fore.
This was clearly demonstrated in Las Vegas, given the number of attendees in new workout shoes, matching workout outfits and fitness bands ready to do battle with age, overeating and months of watching The Biggest Loser with a bag of potato chips and a couple of sodas.
(We all know that soon they’ll be back home watching Dwayne Johnson push folks to their limit in Wake Up Call, identifying with the pain the participants feel as they enjoy their bag of potato chips, sodas and fitness band.)
No, wearables won’t change the way people eat; however, their real potential may lie outside the fitness realm.
Wearable devices are quite quickly becoming a key component in many digital healthcare applications, where monitoring and reporting are more important than making a fashion statement.
More than 15 million heart rate and activity monitors were sold in 2014. With an ageing population (coupled with the number of ‘fatburgers’ consumed), this is an area healthcare professionals want to see expand… rapidly.
Even before the iWatch was a thing, Apple and others in the industry were working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – and similar agencies around the globe that monitor healthcare delivery – to develop wearables that help people and work within the letter of the law.
At the moment, wearables are in that awkward ‘technology looking for an application’ phase. (Remember what a hit Google Glass was going to be?)
While sport, fitness and wellness monitoring are easily identified uses for wearables, other applications that can be enhanced by connectivity will emerge over the next five years to make the devices not only necessary, but almost invisible.
Mary Meeker, of investment outfit Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), emphasises that the benefits of and applications for wearables are still a little blurry but the potential is limited only by engineers’ and designers’ imaginations. She notes that we are still in the early adopter phase but added that it is during this critical phase that newer, better products are developed and new opportunities suddenly emerge.
In the meantime, Harris Interactive found people already see pros and cons of wearable devices.
- 67% of consumers say wearable tech improves their health and fitness.
- One in three said it has helped their career development.
- More than half said it has helped to aid their self-confidence.
- 60% said the devices help them feel more in control of their lives.
- One in three said that wearable tech boosts their love lives.
- One in three would be willing to share their personal fitness/health monitoring data with their healthcare provider.
- 40% said they won’t wear the technology because of privacy concerns.
- 62% of respondents believe wearable devices should be regulated in some form.
- 20% call for an outright ban.
TECHnalysis Research founder and chief analyst Bob O’Donnell takes a more measured view of the market.
While basic band wearables have shipped in better numbers than smart bands, the latter will grow faster in the years ahead with tremendous opportunities in the medical and wellness segment, he says.
“The segment is currently considered a relatively small market,” he notes.
“But wearables really represent the future of healthcare. The medical and healthcare industry is in a state of dramatic change and it won’t be long before having a computer on your wrist will be very common.”
TECHnalysis Research predicts tepid demand for these devices in the short-term with worldwide shipments probably not exceeding 50 million units this year.
They project $16 billion in sales (or 103 million units sold) by 2018.
Bob says the technology is intriguing at many levels; but to date, manufacturers haven’t been able to develop a clear, compelling value statement for the devices. As a result, sales have been sharply restricted to early adopters who’ll buy one of damn near anything that’s techie and new.
There are still a lot of challenges associated with the devices, such as battery life, sensor quality/accuracy, vendor lock-in, aesthetic design and lower prices. Wearable sport, fitness and wellbeing devices will continue to grow as they become more attractive. After all, folks like the idea of something that not only looks good but provides so much hope of a slimmer, more handsome or beautiful you.
Especially when you add all those free or paid apps that help you shed kilos by keeping track of the food you eat and show you how many calories you burned walking to/from the car, the elevator, the refrigerator, etc.
It’s true that these devices do give you some inspiration to get up and do something to shed those unwanted pounds, but there’s no app that makes people stick to the weight loss and/or exercise program.
That said, they’re probably working on one.