Interest in smartwatches and fitness trackers has demonstrated that wearables are undoubtedly the Next Big Thing. The market potential is huge and so are the predictions on the product shipments.
However, there are doubts that wearables can disrupt mass market in the nearest future, remaining to be rather niche products for professionals. These doubts are usually based on the lack of killer features. Newer models of both activity trackers and smartwatches utilize the same pretty much limited feature set. Everyone who wanted a tracker already has one and would replace a broken device rather than discover market novelties.
But there is more to be said about the wearables industry. Wearable products vary in form (smart rings, ear buds, pants, t-shirts – almost every accessory), intended use (sports, healthcare, VR and motion modeling, pet care), and technological stack (along-standing devices, development platforms, open source-based projects). 862 wearable companies are registered on the AngelList website alone. Companies from all over the world work on wearable technologies to provide better tools for what is the essence of wearables is – collection of precise data about state of the human body and making sense of it.
New wearable devices often lack successful use cases to prove significant benefits for a wide audience. This is just a matter of time: the most interesting devices either appeared on the market recently or are in a user feedback collecting phase.
Here are arguments for how wearable development improvements will drive product development and affect popularity of the industry.
Fitness trackers have been designed as wrist-worn bracelets to cope with routine procedures like measuring a distance, counting steps, measuring a heart rate, etc.
New wearable solutions utilize tiny-sized, lightweight sensors designed to be mounted on various body parts. This way, users can wear them with a comfort while devices measure data more accurately. Connection via Bluetooth LE ensures users don’t get annoyed with wires. A combination of an onboard memory and a battery life technology that lasts longer than a training session, allows to prevent data losses.
Wearable sensors can have several components (magnetometers, accelerometers, optical sensors) onboard. Apart from a health condition, they make possible to monitor complex parameters like muscle engagement, biomechanics, or stress level.
Software as a part of wearables
There are two main strategies for wearable startup development: either as a complex solution that includes hardware plus a smartphone/desktop app or as a tunable platform. Like wearable solutions, wearable development platforms have hardware and a management app for those who are fine with basic features. The difference: they also include SDK/API, demo apps, development documentation and support – everything needed to create own apps.
An example of a wearable development platform is Notch, a NYC-based startup focused on biomechanics. Notch offers its 6 sensor kit together with an app, access to ADK, third party apps, and documentation ready to be applied for a wide range of 3D motion tracking systems (read our blog post that covers this topic).
Wearable development platforms must be the driver for the whole wearable industry in a similar way Estimote and Kontakt BLE beacons platforms drive indoor positioning and navigation (you can read in our blog post more about how indoor positioning and navigation works).
Here is what a wearable platform is capable to provide for tech teams:
Lower entry barrier. SDK and API enable to substantially decrease development costs and delivery time, solving partly technical challenges. Teams do not have to focus on how to make sensors communicate with smartphones and with each other but how to apply the existing algorithms to their industry.
Flexibility. Teams are free to experiment with sensor configurations to figure out what works for their audience, and what kind of customization they really need.
Increased number of use cases. The platforms enable developers to be focused on a user needs and provide them quicker with answers on their concerns: how to improve health, recover from injuries, train properly, remain active lifestyle longer, and much more.
Wearable platforms can help with several cases:
- Affordable disease detectors
- Recovery tools
- Personalized training assistants
- Remote monitoring
- VR modelling
Challenges and concerns of smart wearable development yet to overcome
Although wearable industry has demonstrated that it can provide value for the customers, it needs improvement in several dimensions.
Technological novelty. Biometric sensors and data processing algorithms are still a new technology. Most likely, they will need improvement after developers get big amounts of data and examine their hypotheses.
Mobility. Some of existing wearables require smartphones for instant data transmission which might be uncomfortable for activities like jogging. Also, a battery life could last longer – sensors must be recharged after a session.
The price for innovation. The biggest challenge is how much value users get for the price they pay. Sensors kits are expensive comparing to fitness trackers. Though, the prices will fall after sensor-based wearables become more ubiquitous.
To sum up, hardcore fitness metrics are ready to go mainstream and this is good. The future of wearables is customizable platforms that can be applied for different use cases. Platforms provide benefits for both customers and development teams decreasing delivery time and costs thus, the end-price of a product.
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