• Ash M

Wearable Technology - The Next Stage of Evolution?

Updated: Mar 31

As we’ve already discussed on the Zoku blog the smartphone market, dominated by Samsung, Huawei and Apple, is flatlining. According to Deloitte, “adoption seems to have peaked”. People just aren’t excited about buying a new phone anymore when it looks exactly the same as their old one, so they hold onto their device for longer.

Decline in one market leads to opportunity in another. While smartphones have lost their razzle dazzle as the must-have device for switched on consumers, wearables (mainly smart watches and fitness bands) have demonstrated robust growth since the Fitbit Classic was launched in 2009. Although the first generation of fitness trackers had limited functionality, they proved very popular over the next few years. FitBit’s revenue grew from US$5 million in 2010 to $1.8 billion in 2018.

The Apple Watch has dominated the smartwatch market since its launch in 2015 and (although Apple doesn’t share precise data) currently ships around 10 million units per quarter, with 37.9% of the market share in 2019. That’s nowhere near the iPhone at the peak of its popularity (231.22 million units sold in 2015), but it’s still a consistent earner for Cupertino. Rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Watch or the Fossil Sport or the FitBit Versa compete with the market leader on battery life and price (as well as offering alternatives to iOS). Projections suggest the global smart watch market will be worth $43.8 million by 2023.

Since 2016 Apple has also dominated the global wireless earbuds market with AirPods, currently selling around 50 million units a year. Tim Cook reported to investors in August 2019 that Apple’s wearables division generated more revenue than “300 of all Fortune 500 companies”. Again, the competition is hot on Apple’s heels, with Huawei, Sony, and Samsung offering their own versions of wireless earbuds.

What can we expect from the Wearables industry?

Does this mean global tech corporations have already got the wearable market locked up for the next decade – or until they start implanting communication chips directly into our brains? Not at all. In fact, the market is in its infancy with just first versions from the main market movers. If ever there was a time to look to a market that is ripe for disruption and innovation, it's wearables, and that time is now.

The wearable devices being pushed on the current market are based on 19th century designs. The wristwatch dates back to 1868 while over-ear headphones are the direct descendants of the listening devices used by telephone operators in the 1880s. Although today’s wearables have much more functionality than their predecessors, they’re still constructed according to outdated principles, shaped for a world that no longer exists.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that many 21st century users find wearables unbearable and abandon them after only a few months. Ex-wearable users cite privacy concerns, difficulty with tethering to another device, clunky interfaces, and discomfort after a few hours’ use as reasons for lack of usage of their devices. They like the idea of wearables – hence their purchase – but dislike the experience they have with the old-fashioned technology currently available.

How does the future of Smart Technology look?

The next few years are going to see exciting changes to the wearables market, particularly "Hearables". Finally, after more than a century, we’re going to be using our in-ear devices for so much more than listening, or blocking exterior sound. New Bluetooth standards (launched at last month’s CES) that dramatically increase battery life mean it’s now possible to offer high quality audio plus AI-driven functions. Biometrics are going to be part of the package too. Valencell has developed sensors that measure blood pressure via an earbud. It’s estimated that by 2025, this new sector could be worth $80 billion.

These trends suggest we’re witnessing the de-integration of technology. A single visually-based handheld device is no longer fit for purpose. Key functions will be reassigned to wearables placed to take advantage of our other senses. And that’s where Hy comes in...