Wearable technology has come a long way since its first introduction. The earliest wearables appeared in the 1970s as wrist calculators and music players. However, the last decade saw widespread adoption. As of 2020, the global wearables market had a value of $116.2 billion. Projections show that figure more than doubling in the next five years.
We’re in the thick of a new technological revolution, and wearables are at the forefront. Constant innovations create emerging trends that shape everything from IoT (Internet of Things) to healthcare. Here are some of the most exciting wearable technology design trends to keep an eye on.
Smartwatches are nothing new, but they took several years to become the staple they are today. At one point, fitness trackers reigned supreme. Sports-based activity trackers arguably led to the widespread adoption of other forms of wearable technology. But these days, smartwatches dominate the market.
A report by CCS Insights shows that smartwatches began outselling fitness trackers in 2016. Forecasts predict that smartwatch dominance will continue to grow moving forward. Smartwatches are typically more feature-rich, combining core tracking functionality with more robust connectivity and phone-related features. It’s no surprise that smartwatches make up more than 60% of the wearables market.
Thanks to mass production and a yearly cycle of new releases, this technology will only become more accessible to the masses.
It’s not just tech enthusiasts who can take advantage of wearable devices. Innovations are paving the way towards life-changing applications. We’re already starting to see it help stroke survivors and those who suffer from neurological disorders. However, the versatility of wearable technology opens a world of possibilities for rehabilitating patients.
Wearables can stimulate muscle memory and improve several motor skills through electrostimulation. It reduces a patient’s reliance on human rehabilitators and puts the power of recovery in their hands.
Physicians are starting to utilize wearables for post-op rehabilitation as well. Thanks to the ever-growing IoT world, they can monitor wound healing remotely while also keeping track of potential activity issues.
Broader Health Monitoring
Early wearables utilized a handful of basic sensors to track your activity. Today, devices can have 16 or more to measure a wide range of parameters. They do much more than pick up simple movements. They can use everything from GPS technology to light sensors to provide more in-depth information.
Health-focused monitoring is an emerging trend in wearable devices. A few years ago, Apple was the first to get FDA clearance for its direct-to-consumer ECG algorithm. It records a tachogram and can notify users of potential atrial fibrillation risks. Several other wearable-makers followed suit.
ECG monitors highlighted the potential of wearable devices, and developers are implementing even more monitors in future devices.
Specialized wearable devices for health monitoring have been around for several years. In 2020 their use jumped dramatically as remote patient monitoring moved from a toy of early adopters to a standard technology. Now, this is a hot area with patches on the abdomen doing cardiac monitoring or gastric monitoring and devices on the wrist doing contact monitoring for social distancing or using temperature and motion sensors to detect disease.
There are even implanted monitors for heart disease. In the near future, a wrist-worn device will monitor all the standard health measurements, including blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and others. Hospitals are beginning to use these devices to monitor patients automatically instead of having nurses make the measurements.
Wearable technology plays an essential role in the Internet of Things. Wearables are heavily connected and feature a slew of location-based features that can add loads of convenience to your life.
There’s an ongoing discussion about how wearable technology is affecting privacy. While there may be inherent security risks to address, wearables can also improve personal safety.
Many argue that wearable devices are more reliable for location-based tracking during an emergency than even your smartphone. Some developers are running with that idea and creating devices that prioritize location-sharing, robust emergency response features, and safety alarms. Others are working on technology that can assist with everything from crowd management to contact tracing.
Hearables are a unique sector of the larger wearables market. The term is a combination of “hearing” and “wearable.” Developers create these devices to wear in the ears. Hearable devices typically incorporate microphones, speakers, and a slew of sensors for enhanced functionality. Bone-conducting hearing devices usually fall into this category despite the lack of traditional speakers.
These wearable devices combine several different features, resulting in a brand-new sector that’s already making waves. Analysts predict that more brands will dive into hearables, focusing on high-fidelity audio, hearing impairment assistance, and voice analytics.
Biosensors are healthcare-focused devices that can change medical monitoring and disease detection. These tiny devices take the form of bandage-like patches. Thanks to biosensing ink, tattoo-based sensors are not too far off.
Thanks to discrete designs, biosensors have ultimate wearability. They offer a much easier way to gather data and monitor several health markers. Biosensors can measure biomarkers, hormones, bacteria, and more. Physicians can track disease progression and monitor health in real-time with that information.
Virtual reality opened many doors for entertainment, work training, and education. Developers are continuing to realize its potential and push the technology further. However, the battle for augmented reality (AR) implementation is going strong, too.
Augmented reality marries the real world with digital information. When used alongside simple AR glasses, users can manipulate their worldview and cater their vision to whatever task is in front of them. For this reason, wearable AR adoption is bubbling.
Applications include enterprise training, industrial manufacturing, engineering, and more. Consumer-level AR is in its infancy, but this wearable technology shows no signs of slowing down as far as innovations go.
“Smart” clothing is an emerging market that shows some impressive potential. Electronic textiles incorporate flexible and durable components that provide the same level of connectivity as smartphones or smartwatches. They can become part of IoT, delivering valuable information for various industries.
The health and fitness-tracking sectors have the most to gain. Designers are already creating garments to monitor health markers, measure activity, and more. Even the fashion industry can get in early with electronic textiles. One company uses the technology to track a piece’s lifecycle and possibly reduce clothing waste.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
With each passing year, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are popping up in more consumer devices. Lately, we’ve started to see these technologies in wearables, too.
AI-powered wearables have a lot of potential in healthcare. The technology can improve heart rate monitoring, predict women’s fertility, help disabled patients navigate their surroundings, and more. AI and ML also appear in enterprise-grade wearables.
Many key players in the tech world have plans for AI-powered wearables in the future, resulting in a predicted growth of 28.5% in the next five years.
Earlier wearables had to work around significant connectivity limitations. However, the rise of 5G is breaking down many barriers, resulting in enhanced mobility across the board. 5G offers increased bandwidth, faster data transfer, and the ability to connect more devices to the Internet. This is particularly useful for AR devices.
The low-latency transfers can improve precision and allow devices to gather even more information than ever before. Trends show developers leaning into the edge computing potential that 5G brings to the table. Together, 5G and edge computing can make future wearables more powerful and capable than ever before.
Developing for the Future
When you’re ready to contribute to the ever-changing wearable technology market, turn to Voler Systems. We have over 40 years of experience developing and designing complex electronics.
Our team specializes in IoT and wearable devices. Whether you’re creating a consumer or medical product, we have what it takes to turn your ideas into reality.
Note: This article first appeared on Voler Systems’ site in December 2021.