Since the advent of the humble Bluetooth headset in the early 2000s, wearable technology has grown rapidly. The devices on sale today have a lot more functions and rely on different areas of the body. Although this technology survives in almost its original form today through wireless earphones, wearables have become more diverse than before. Today, they’re worn as smart glasses, watches, rings, sneakers, jewelry, clothing, and even implants.
Industry insiders consider Nike+ one of the first major breakthroughs in wearable tech. Released in 2006, Nike and Apple built a sports tracking kit that connected Nike’s footwear to the iPod Nano. Together, they could display the user’s distance, time, pace, and calories burned.
Under Armour later perfected this technology in partnership with us when they built the first fitness tracking system for elite athletes. UA Healthbox and Record went on to sweep the CES Innovation Awards in 2016.
It could track 50+ health and fitness metrics to provide a detailed dashboard of an athlete’s sleep, nutrition, activity, and overall fitness across 24 hours. Its immense popularity (1.94 million users with 2.6 billion workouts logged) helped the industry, especially healthcare, rethink the possibilities wearables hold.
Wearables of other kinds have also come far, with Alphabet Inc’s pioneering Google Glass in 2013 paving the way for today’s VR headsets like Oculus Quest 2, Microsoft’s HoloLens, Snap Inc’s Spectacles, and Ray-Ban Stories.
Likewise, McLEAR’s patented 2013 NFC ring set an example for all the smart rings that followed, like Oura Ring, and inspired a burgeoning market for them.
With shipments reaching a mammoth 533 million by 2021, today’s wearable market is bristling with untapped potential. The accelerated deployment of 5G has only made them more accessible than ever before.
By the end of 2022, the industry was flirting with a $60 billion valuation, which was little more than the entire US beauty industry at the time. With a predicted compound annual growth rate of 14.6% between 2023 and 2030, wearable tech is set to expand its horizons.
Wearables are rapidly integrating with tech ecosystems spanning multiple industries and verticals. Although they inspired a proliferation of possibilities in each, they’ve had an outsized impact on a select few, like the following:
The most widespread use of wearables currently is in the health and fitness industry. Valued at almost $30 billion in 2021 alone, the market for global wearable medical devices is poised to grow to nearly $200 billion by 2030.
From the pioneering Google Glass, which doctors experimented with for remote surgeries to wearable glucose, ECG, and blood pressure monitors, wearables have become almost inseparable from health and fitness.
Sports and fitness trackers, like the Apple Watch, Fitbit, Samsung Gear, and Garmin, serve enthusiasts looking for reliable sleep and fitness metrics.
More retailers than ever are using wearables to make shopping dreamily smooth. Leading thinkers in the industry are designing stores where people can walk in, pick up their items, and leave without stopping to check out. Their wearable will handle the payments.
By 2017, retail companies saved $1B per year using wearable technology. Savings came from the minor optimizations wearables make possible, like seamless employee communication. Line-of-sight wearables or VR devices are also reimagining store layouts to be more navigable for customers.
The recent partnership between retail giant Macy’s and Apple will now allow customers to pay using Apple Pay, even from their Apple Watches. Wearables in retail will also allow brands to market more personally and directly address their customer’s pain points.
Wearables in the transportation & travel industry are the new traveler’s dashboard. They store trip info, estimated departure and arrival times, boarding passes, reservation numbers, and confirmation codes.
Another way brands use wearables is with specifically designed devices, like Disney World’s MagicBand. Visitors to the iconic resort can use Disney’s wristband to enter parks, pay for purchases, and unlock rooms.
Wearables have also become some of the most sought-after navigation devices, especially with the launch of the new Apple Watch Ultra. With a red display filter and waypoint markers, Apple’s latest premium-tier Watch allows users to travel far in remote locations without getting lost.
Monitoring employee safety gets easier with wearables, too. Biometric tracking on the devices can alert people if a pilot, air traffic controller, train conductor, bus driver, or other key personnel display abnormal heart rates or other symptoms.
Lines continue to blur at a steady clip between fashion, retail, health, wellness, gaming, and fintech as wearables get increasingly innovative in the post-pandemic world. Experts believe the future of wearables lies in interconnectivity among devices.
The focus on interconnectivity has inspired a wellspring of new applications for wearables. Some of them are:
Innovators in this area aim to create wearables that can convert body heat, movement or solar energy into usable power. Companies like e-peas are building systems to sense, process, and harvest ambient energy. Meta is a leading innovator in this space, too, with its efforts to make hands-free typing using brain activity a reality.
Haptic-enabled wearables create experiential interfaces that guide users through physical nudges, vibrations, and motions. Graspable haptic devices are already in use by doctors, who need them to operate remotely, and by engineers, who repair space satellites from Earth.
On the other hand, wearable haptics can integrate with your clothing to give directions or provide weather warnings. The third kind of haptics, Touchable, will allow users to feel textures remotely, making it a huge winner for e-commerce as well as virtual travel.
The advent of the metaverse brought an array of old and new AR, VR, and XR ideas to the forefront. In the proposed 4-D immersive universe, people and companies can create reality-defying virtual experiences that feel… real.
Brands are reimagining user experiences with the metaverse, like Nike’s virtual experience in Roblox. Shopping behavior will change as well, like our 2016 demo concept for Walmart showcased. Wearables will be the gateway to these virtual worlds and stores.
Although wearables have grown by leaps and bounds since the Apple Watch debuted in 2015, there are still some areas that could be improved.
A network of smart wearable devices that talk to each other is the need of the hour. Together, they will draw from multiple data sources and work in an ecosystem of different devices to provide users with rich information.
Users also hesitate to fully trust wearable devices because of the perceived risk of data breaches. Wearable makers can overcome this with a robust 2FA system, which still isn’t widely available to users.
Most wearable devices still haven’t perfected the science of longer battery life. As a result, frequent charging breaks could see a drop in user interest over time since it stops being feasible after a while. This has led to a spurt of innovation in updating wearable apps, with each roll-out targeting more power efficiency.
In a culture that’s getting increasingly fond of numbers, people expect more from their wearable than mere step counts. However, with no officially set industry standards, claims of accuracy can be dubious. Wearables must counter this by upping accuracy and transparently displaying accuracy guarantees.
Microsoft’s recent upswing with ChatGPT shows that intermeshing technologies could create a cascading array of benefits for both the user and brand. However, to a large extent, our wearable dreams of today depend on the robustness of the IoT infrastructure of tomorrow.
As the brains behind the first ever version of The Economist for Apple Watch and Under Armour’s CES Innovation Award-winning Healthbox and Record, our team of award-winning developers has spearheaded pathbreaking products in the wearables and IoT space.
Perhaps your next big wearable product is just one conversation between you and us away? Reach out today.