Quantified Self, health, and gaming. The trends driving wearables.

 

It’s been the buzzword of 2015.

A buzzword largely driven by the emergence of smartwatches and in particular by Apple entering the market. I’m sure you all have at least one friend who has been telling you how good their new shiny device hanging off their arm is. Or jokingly talking into it in a Get Smart esque way.

But what is it that is driving the global uptake of wearables worldwide? Meet the top three trends that are not just driving growth now, but will in the years to come.

1. The Quantitative Life:

The Quantitative life movement has been described as helping you keep a reference to not just how you lived the day before, but two weeks before or even a year before. Simply, it’s the trend of the health tracker. This trend is one that has largely driven the uptake of wearables worldwide.

Cultural anthropologist Natasha Schull doesn’t believe this is a new trend though, just one that technology is making into an easier automated process. Schull references the 1800s and 1900s where diaries and self-accounts were a similar way of tracking[1]. Think even at Gyms where previous results would be recorded manually. The growing obsession with self-improvement over the past few decades a consumer need wearables are addressing.

The ability of wearables such as the Fitbit to be able to combine a variety of technologies, from GPS, accelerometers, and gyroscopes have created the automatic ability to track everything from steps to sleep quality.

Accordingly to research firm Canalys, Fitbit accounted for 50% of the 2.7 million wearable bands, including fitness trackers and smart watches that shipped worldwide in first half of 2014. However, since the launch of the iWatch and Samsung Gear S2 that include much of the same technology, are fitness trackers on limited time? Alternatively, fitness trackers need to evolve to add additional benefits. Or perhaps, like Ralph Lauren announced, connected shirts will be the new fitness tracker[2]. Either way, expect this self-measurement trend to continue to be a key driver and focus of smartwatches in the future.

2. Healthcare:

Healthcare is seeing a spike in interest and testing leading to a new concept of Personalised Health.

A 2011 French report looked at the extensive research and development of smart wearable system for health monitoring. With an ageing world population and the proportion of young workers in developed countries shrinking, the current world situation presents a challenge in how healthcare will operate to combat this increasing issue.

The report highlighted the below implantable devices healthcare will start to be tested and adopted to create a more efficient health system.

  • Jewelry or wristwatch: This measures body temperature, galvanic skin response.
  • Armbands: Sensors that assess movement, heat flow, near-body ambient temperature
  • Shirt: Measures the body’s vital signs
  • Shoes: Monitor motion or analyses gait
  • Virtual Reality: This is occurring with companies such as ‘Aged Care Virtual Reality’ already existing in Australia.

If the above were adopted universally within healthcare, this would result in more personalised healthcare solutions for patients.

While there are challenges involved, researchers believe that wearables will drive the second wave of biometric adoption. In particular, a forecast that by 2019 there will be 604M users of wearable biometric technologies globally[3]. Perhaps a world similar to the below dystopian video of Smart Forks and Smart cane’s for the elderly is not far off.

https://vimeo.com/128873380

3. Gaming:

Finally, moving beyond health, entertainment and in particular gaming is another salient trend driving wearable growth. While the concept of wearable gaming isn’t necessarily new, going back to the failed 1995 Nintendo Virtual Boy console or the more recent successful Nintendo Wii controller, the technology to make gaming more immersive and attainable for the average player is increasing.

Virtual Reality wearable headsets are the products driving growth in gaming, in particular the cheaper cardboard wearables. The 2015 Virtual Reality Cardboard research report has projected growth of 182.9% in terms of revenue and $150.8% in terms of unit shipments over the period 2014-2019.

According to the report, the low cost of providers such as Google Cardboard is why this growth is occurring, compared to the expensive and high end versions of headsets. Combine this with a range of recent game developments, and providers like Oculus continuing developments, and gaming is undergoing a transformation to become more immersive. Whilst the cardboard product development makes VR more accessible, researchers expect partnerships and developments by VR providers to make the higher end versions more superior for high end gamers and as a result, more desirable.

The 2015 Gartner Technology Hype Cycle has wearables sitting within the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ category, with the expected plateau to be reached in 5 to 10 years.

But with the above trends in mind, the longevity will be due to either solving a problem or adding real convenience, something this technology is now beginning to provide.

[1] BBC Futures: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130102-self-track-route-to-a-better-life

[2] Ralph Lauren: http://www.theverge.com/2015/8/20/9178923/ralph-laurens-polotech-smart-shirt-is-the-ultimate-preppy-tech

[3] Biometric Technology Today. Volume 2014, Issue 11.

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