Peering into a Wearable Future

For a category that has faced much skepticism, it’s hard to argue that the wearable tech category has not been a success story so far. In fact, NPD expects that total ownership of activity trackers and smartwatches among U.S. adults will stand at nearly 77 million devices by the end of 2017. However, the market is becoming increasingly complex in the face of innovation and changing consumer demands. 2018 will see even more dramatic shifts in the evolution of the wearable tech space than we have seen in the previous two years. For example, healthcare will become an ever-increasing priority for all OEM’s, app developers, and apparel/sensor vendors alike. With the FDA reducing the barrier to entry, in terms of approval times on new medical technologies, expect more players to enter the market; especially large OEMs, like Apple, who are aggressively looking to partner with technology innovators in the medical industry. However, the biggest mass-market push in wearables could come from the ability for the smartwatch to double as a health and fitness tracking device, while also acting as a wrist-based home automation and IOT controller. As such, below is a list of several predictions for the New Year.

A new Apple Watch design – Apple hit a homerun with its latest Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE – a fitness-focused smartwatch in the iPhone ecosystem with cellular connectivity was destined to perform well. However, there’s no denying that the Apple Watch leaves something to be desired from a design perspective for some buyers. Expect to see Apple surprise the market and launch a new Apple Watch variant to complement the existing model towards the end of 2018. The new model will likely be more premium and fashion oriented (possibly in partnership with a fashion brand), with a price north of $600. In addition, the design will almost certainly be round, which is the preferred base design of almost 80 percent of the world’s traditional watches. This new watch design will not replace the existing Apple Watch, but will simply add a more premium version and new design to the collection. The existing Apple Watch design will remain the heavy lifter in terms of mass-market purchasing.

Smart bands – One of the benefits of the more relaxed FDA regulations around wearable tech medical devices is that large OEMs like Apple and Samsung will most likely look to partner with more specialized medical device manufacturers on new technology. And one of the fastest ways to add new medical tracking technology into the smartwatch space is through smart bands rather than an entirely new smartwatch. For example, an OEM or medical device manufacturer could develop device sensors that can be integrated into a wristband to fit a variety of smartwatches. This type of smart band would be separate from the smartwatch itself, and would thus not delay the launch of any device due to FDA regulations. As a result, we are likely to see smart bands that track things like blood glucose without the need to prick your finger in the next 24 months.

The heart rate security monitor – With almost 70 percent of activity trackers owned in the U.S. containing a heart rate monitor, there is a unique opening for a new security solution utilizing the users heart rhythm. Each human heartbeat has a unique rhythm that cannot be duplicated. A wearable device with a hear rate monitor could be used to control home locks, alarm codes, car access, and more. In addition, a heart rate security monitor could link up with the users smartphone to provide additional security beyond facial or fingerprint recognition. This type of combined security would be incredibly valuable in protecting corporate data as well. Expect to see initial implementations of heart rate monitoring for security in late 2018.

Healthcare wearables boom – The direct healthcare sector will help reduce the sharp drop in consumer activity tracker sales, while also further bolstering the smartwatch segment. The healthcare sector use cases will be broader than the traditional activity tracker and will eventually provide a wide range of health data to doctors, healthcare providers, and consumers looking to better manage their health and any health conditions. This trend will also be key in the smartwatch space, especially since the higher price points will allow for a much broader range of sensors, and thus more complex health metrics that can be tracked. The trend will be driven by life insurance and health insurance companies looking to gain a better picture of the overall health of their users, which will lead to a wide scale offering of subsidized activity trackers and smartwatches to nearly half the U.S. population in exchange for the sharing of health data.

Smartwatch smart home integration – In 2018 we will see true integration between wearable devices and the smart home. While the technology to link these devices is here today, it will take some time for mainstream products and wearable devices to integrate seamlessly without major issues. By the end of 2018, expect that many smartwatches will be able to control basic household functionality on a larger scale, as well as better control video and TV within the home. The smartwatch is the perfect platform for this type of home automation/IoT control, as the device is always on the user’s wrist, while smartphones have been getting bigger and bulkier, making them more likely to be left in another room.

On-device cellular for all – While Samsung was the first to bring a cellular enabled smartwatch to the market with the Gear S, Apple has timed the market perfectly with its Watch Series 3. As a result of Apple entering the game, expect most other smartwatch OEMs to follow suit. This is especially true given that all of the major U.S. wireless carriers have already launched services that link connected wearable devices with the user’s main smartphone telephone number. By linking the smartphone service with a wearable device, users now have seamless usability regardless of what device they are using.

Health and fitness tags – While the wrist-worn activity tracker segment is experiencing pressure, health and fitness trackers are ready for takeoff. These small sensors can stick on user clothing to track overall health and fitness, without the need for charging, as they are powered by disposable watch batteries. While some solutions are already available, the upcoming boom in medical device tracking will unlock the value of the disposable health tracking tag. Expect to see a much wider availability of this type of solution towards the end of 2018.