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How can wearables gain market traction?

Posted: 04 Aug 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wearable? fitness band? smart device? wearables?

Wearable technology was just at its infancy three years ago. Now, it has grown to such extent where different players, from satnav companies to consumer electronics companies, are selling wearable electronics products on the market. However, the past three years have also seen a period of many booms and busts in this nascent industry.

In part, wearable technology is driven by consumer electronics companies seeking the next big thing as the impending saturation of smart devices and tablets becomes frighteningly apparent. However, this is still an embryonic industry, with the opportunity being more important than immediate sales, and companies will keep evolving products until they find what's right. That's difficult when there can be so much expectation for companies to get it right first time. Take Google Glass, for example; this has proved to be a flop initially, but it's a concept that is far from dead in the Google labs.

Consumers want to be connected!preferably without carrying around bulky things!but wearable technology devices just aren't there yet. For example, many wearers of fitness bands tire of the daily battery charging process once they feel they have learned enough from the data provided. Then there is the trend of cell phones to move to bigger displays!something that is desired by consumers, but that doesn't marry up well with a much smaller rigid display worn on your wrist. The jury!that is, consumers!do not appear to be convinced that this is a format that works.

Additionally, the current approach of conventional electronics that you strap onto yourself has resulted in rapid commoditisation, seeing margins being driven down rapidly. Indeed, detailed reference designs for nearly every type of consumer wearable device can be readily found online. Component manufacturers globally provide this information as a marketing tool, with simple block diagrams indicating the array of offerings they can provide for each component type.

Wearable technology roadmap

The majority of devices available have adopted component platforms developed for cell phones into wearable products, as shown in the figure below. It is therefore not too much of a surprise that today's wearable technology products are met with mixed review.

image name

(Source: IDTechEx Research)

The future will be very different because it will involve the use of new types of electronics!namely thin, conformal, flexible, invisible, distributed and textile-integrated components that are just beginning to emerge from research labs.

For example, flexible batteries have already enabled companies such as Estee Lauder and BioBliss to bring "powered" cosmetic skin patches to market, whereby the battery applies a voltage over the skin, opening the pores up, allowing the cosmetic to go in up to 10 times faster than without a power source. Used for anti-wrinkle treatment, the application would not be practical with a thick, rigid button cell battery. It comes as no surprise to report then that Samsung, LG Chem and Apple have all developed or acquired flexible, thin film battery technology in the last few years as they seek to unshackle themselves from the constraint of bulky rigid batteries.

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