Beyond the smartwatch: Three wearable tech trends worth watching
BostonAnd the November 25, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — As the smartwatch market matures, the capabilities of wearables continue to expand. In the coming years, alternative form factors could start to tempt consumers away. Not only can these devices provide greater value — they also have the potential to access new biometrics. The wearable technology industry is driven by the demand for more data — but it faces extreme maturation during an era of economic downturn. This article sums up what life could look like after the smartwatch boom, with three trends to watch.
Earbuds: Listening to our emotions
Adoption of the Apple AirPods has multiplied tenfold in the past five years, as Bluetooth technology has brought true wireless stereo to the mass market. Like their smartwatch companions, the price point of these audiophiles remains high, and consumers may start turning to cheaper options without innovation. However, earbuds have a key advantage that wrist-wearing doesn’t — they’re close to the brain.
The proximity of the ear to the brain could give a commercial advantage to more advanced earphones in the coming years. The metal electrodes used to measure the electrical signals from the heart (ECG) can also measure neural activity (EEG). This is covered in IDTechEx’s dedicated report on wearable sensors.
Measurements of signals from the brain can determine stress, sleep quality, and emotional state, as well as diagnose epilepsy. It is indeed possible to buy EEG-integrated headbands, but they are much less fashionable and are mostly sold as a new toy. The challenge so far for an in-ear solution has been miniaturizing the electronics and noise cancellation. However, in recent years, some companies, such as Naox Technologies and Kokoon, have demonstrated that EEG-integrated acoustics are possible.
In parallel, the demand for emotional state data is also growing. Advertisers are increasingly turning to EEG for access. For example, it is now commonly used to rate viewers’ interaction with Super Bowl ads.
So far, major brands have refrained from adding new sensor technology to their audiophiles. It’s long been possible to put optical heart rate sensors in earphones, and while certain devices are available for sports, they haven’t made their way to the mass market. This is most likely because the priority was to improve the sound quality. It is also because it provides a redundant set of data available from the watch. Moreover, the earphones cannot offer real-time data visualization.
However, due to their unique ability to interpret neural signals, now may be the time for audiology devices to play a more advanced role in collecting user data via EEG. In fact, implantable electrodes are already being used to communicate with exoskeletons to enable paraplegics to walk. So while 2023 may be a bit early to see mass adoption of mind-reading earphones, it may be a good time to see a shift in focus from developments in key big-brand wrist wear to hearing aids. Consumers left unimpressed by the incremental improvements to smartwatch hardware may limit their spending on new consumer electronics to a more impressive pair of earbuds.
Removable capsules and performance analytics: A more personalized approach to wearable adoption
Smartwatches and fitness tracker bands currently dominate the activity monitor market, but demand for a more personalized approach could be on the horizon. Most of the value we get from our wearable devices comes from the software that analyzes our movements. However, the raw movement data available from the watch alone has limitations, and the data analyzes available from platforms built for athletes also have advantages for the mass market.
The devices currently limit the use of watches during contact sports because they are too dangerous. Furthermore, the motion that can be detected from the wrist is not able to very accurately capture specific movements associated with certain sports – for example, weightlifting or body strengthening exercises. One proposed solution for the professional athletes market is the use of removable pods.
Removable pods can contain the same motion and hearing rate sensors found in smartwatches, but are held in place via pockets in chest straps, underwear, or pants (more information about these types of sensors is covered in the Wearable Sensors report ). It is now common to see Major League Soccer players and NFL players wearing Statsport or Kinexon chest harnesses. Similarly, professional golfers and cyclists are embracing Whoop bands that can be worn on the wrist or adapted to be inserted into clothing.
For some companies, elite athletes have served as a marketing tool for their wearables. As such, the potential for improved insights into stress and recovery, as well as the scope for use of capsules as well as wrist wear, is beginning to reach a broader market. This trend is likely to continue in 2023, especially given that a lot of the value in this business model lies in the software. This allows companies, such as Whoop, to offer a subscription to their platform, which includes hardware. This could make it more accessible to the consumer market, who would appreciate receiving upgraded hardware as standard. In the future, packages targeting amateur athletes and the broader wellness market are likely to emerge. Consumers will appreciate the opportunity to curate a more personalized approach to tracking their fitness, combining removable pods, watches, performance analytics and data sharing to suit their needs.
Headphones and Glasses: Preparing for the Meta Verse
What lies behind the smartwatch will be largely dictated by the future of our interactions with each other and the Internet. Today, it is typical to use a laptop, smartphone, and perhaps also a smartwatch for activity tracking and hands-free communication if desired. But this ecosystem has been the status quo for many years now and could be ripe for disruption.
Phone design has stagnated in recent years, and combined with “zoom fatigue” in the wake of the pandemic, there are signs that consumers are hungry for something more attractive.
This is where the concept of “meta beat” enters. The development of augmented reality headsets and smart glasses may one day make the smartphone redundant, taking smartwatches with it. Wearable biometrics are likely to follow if society turns to headgear for messaging, web browsing, and gaming.
AR/VR (Augmented/Virtual Reality) headsets already need motion sensors and cameras for eye tracking. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine the integration of dry electrodes across the forehead, collecting heart rate data and measuring nerve signals.
This kind of revolution is likely to paint a picture of the world beyond the smartwatch. However, the success of this shift will be driven by developments in display optics, which are still at least a few years away from reaching mass-market-ready levels of miniaturization. In the meantime, smart headwear and glasses should become more socially acceptable. As such, temporary products (such as camera-integrated Ray Bans) will likely continue to be released to make them more fashionable. Similarly, gaming headsets have already been seen in an increasing number of TV commercials. While they may sound alarming to some now, this time next year, society will likely be more comfortable with them.
The final hurdle for earphones, removable earplugs, and headphones is balancing data access with social perception and acceptance. Real-time activity monitoring is a major feature of wearables; Seeing it live on a watch is a huge selling point. This feature will likely see consumer adoption of new wearables depending on connectivity with existing smartwatches. For social acceptance, integration into the right branded proprietary devices will be critical. The marketing challenge facing manufacturers looking to appeal to a broader demographic of consumers, elite athletes, and the medical market is not trivial but is outside the realm of expertise of today’s consumer electronics makers. The smartwatch is likely to follow the path of the smartphone in becoming less impressive but constantly in demand. The real opportunity lies in the next generation of wearables, where smartwatches will interact to meet the demand for new functionality. This market has much more room for new players, items and innovation.
IDTechEx offers a wide range of technology market research reports covering many aspects of the wearable technology space. These include wearable sensors, electronic skin patches, AR/VR, electronic textiles, and hearing aids. IDTechEx also has related content dedicated to remote patient monitoring, diabetes management, and printed sensors. All of these reports cover the current status and expected future developments, both in terms of technical capabilities and commercial adoption. Accurate forecasts broken down by technology and application help plan future projects, while multiple company profiles based on initial interviews provide detailed insight into key players. The reports also included multiple application examples, a SWOT analysis, and technology/business readiness assessments.
More details and downloadable sample pages for each report can be found at IDTechEx website, To learn more about IDTechEx’s wearable technology research, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/WT.
IDTechEx guides your strategic business decisions through research, subscription, and advisory products, helping you take advantage of emerging technologies. For more information, contact research@IDTechEx.com or visit www.IDTechEx.com.
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