This year CES broke another record with 3,600 exhibitors, 170,000 attendees, and 375 startup companies, and LSR was there to keep tabs on the industry. Due to our focus in helping our customers achieve wireless innovations, it was a great opportunity to assess the state of the wearable tech market. We noticed a lot of uninteresting fitness tracker bands, a few standouts on wearable innovation, and a lot of white space in the market for several demographics.
As the market tries to figure out what the segmentation of the $5.1 billion wearable market will look like in 2015, there is one thing for sure: the large manufacturers have jumped on the fitness tracking bandwagon (pun intended). Seemingly everywhere you turned, there was another look-alike, black rubber fitness tracking wrist band. It is predicted that this category of wearables will increase 17% this year, but will flatten off a bit as the smart watch sales increase. It’s predicted that consumers will begin to experience device fatigue and will not want multiple devices that do similar things. And although wearables for the wrist may be currently leading the market, wearable devices are showing up in other forms and solving other problems that are quite interesting.
Fashion that Camouflages the Technology
One interesting phenomenon is the disguising of technology through fashion accessories. Fashion technology has been an obvious trend at CES over the last two years, however we believe that very little has made it to market due the technical and funding challenges that these startup companies face. It has yet to be seen how these devices will be retailed and how well they will be received by the mass market. Nonetheless, these companies are addressing a problem. Fashion forward women want alternatives to the black rubber band, regardless of the device’s primary purpose.
More than just Fitness Bands and Smart-Watches
Another interesting development are wearables that interact with the user in unique ways. For example, a number of companies at CES were marketing products known as “hearables”. These devices forego the display altogether and focus on audio output only. These are very personal devices and are good for active sports feedback and training. These type of devices come with their own unique development challenges, such as battery performance and weight (and, of course, the wearablility aesthetic). No one wants to be the dude talking to himself with technology hanging on his head. These are technological and social challenges that are still being worked out in these early days of wearable development.
Designing to Solve Specific Problems
Overall, we felt there was a bit of a gap in the wearables that were shown at CES. The majority of the wearables were trying to solve the same problems, focused on providing personal fitness and health related data to the user. One could argue there are other problems that wearables can elegantly solve and serve huge segments of the population. One example of this was the GizmoPal™ by LG. It is a tracking wristband for the preschool aged kid. FiLIP™ is a similar product reaching the market as well. Both feature GPS and one button calling. One could imagine this product could be adapted to benefit the elderly and their caregivers just as well. What we admire is that these products attack a real specific problems and do it well. They have resisted the urge to add features requiring displays that would be mostly useless for this user and would only drive the cost up.
What’s Next for Wearable Tech?
As microprocessors, radios, and sensors continue to decrease in size and cost, wearable applications for these components will increase. It’s really up to the designers and researchers to discover and invent the right wearable for the right user. We predict that unlike the smart phone, wearables will come in many forms. Many will target specific demographics with specific use cases. They will go beyond what a smart watch can do well. They will be professional tools and assist people with everyday tasks. They will allow us to navigate and protect us and give us more than an activity report at the end of the day.
The wrist will be the near-term focus for most wearables, but head worn devices will become a more common place as consumers experience the benefits of augmented reality. Jack Cutts, a market researcher at CEA, predicts smart eyewear will start to grow this year and reach $810M by 2018, a 10x unit growth. This will be driven by the medical, gaming, and other entertainment markets. After all, the head is where we communicate and receive most of our external stimuli. Eventually, some head gear will be replaced by patches and implants. It’s already happening in the medical world, and time will tell when these technologies cross into the consumer world.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rich Walters – Product Design Group Manager
Rich has over 23 years of Industrial Design consulting experience, designing and leading cross functional design teams. His expertise covers a wide spectrum of product development, covering design research, interaction design, CAD, and prototyping. Rich has accumulated over 30 design patents and several utility and international patents. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science of Industrial Design from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where he continues to serve on their Professional Advisory Board for the School of Art and Design.