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The wave of wearables

  • February 9, 2022

Technology in the 21st century has evolved over the last 2,000 years. Semiconductors enable our devices to be smaller and more efficient, empowering the advent of the smart device. The most influential smart device of this era would be the smartphone. When Apple released its iPhone in 2007, the mobile phone landscape changed forever. As the mobile "king of the hill" in the early 2000's, Nokia would suffer losses and eventually be entirely overtaken by 2013.

Their folly? The complacency and lack of vision to innovate their devices. By the time Nokia released their smartphone to match the iPhone, it was already too late. Apple was just too far ahead in the game. Today's mobile phone market is dominated by smartphones, with many companies like Apple, Samsung, Sony, Huawei, and the list goes on. As of 2022, there are roughly around 6.6 Billion smartphone users already, and it is projected to hit 7.33 billion users by 2025. However, this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Technology continued to advance in computing performance and got smaller in form factor, paving the way for wearables.

What are wearables?

Investopedia defines wearable technology as a category of electronic devices that can be worn as accessories, embedded in clothing, implanted into a user's body, and even tattooed onto the skin. These are entirely hands-free with enhanced capabilities to measure, detect and even transmit various data types. These wearable devices are becoming a major contributor to the Internet of Things (IoT) through developments in mobile connectivity.

Humankind is known to innovate through technology from generation to generation. Some argue that wearables started when the first pair of eyeglasses were invented in the 13th century by Salvino D'Armante. Perhaps the first wearable watch in 1571, which the Earl of Leicesters gave, Robert Dudley to Queen Elizabeth I, can be categorized as such.

The watch was a clock full of diamonds suspended by a bracelet that could be worn, easily the predecessor to the modern-day wristwatch we know today. 

Today, wearables have taken the world by storm, primarily in the medical, healthcare, and fitness industries. As the world knows it, watches have already evolved into the smart realm. Smartwatches from various brands like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, Fitbit, and Garmin are just some leading in this market. Many traditional watchmakers have released their hybrid watches, like Fossil, Nixon, and many more. Many of these smartwatches can link a user's mobile phone, measure the user's heart rate, track one's fitness, and more biometric information.

Trends that helped wearables grow

The digital revolution is here. The way our daily lives are entangled with the digitally connected world has been depended on how specific technologies were able to improve and innovate further. Let's take a look at some of these trends.

Sensor technology

Today, we have wearables capable of measuring and tracking your sleep pattern, measuring your heart rate during exercise, and even connecting to your other smart devices. Companies like Oura have already released their smart rings to monitor heart rate, analyze sleep, and more. During the recent CES 2022, the world was introduced to a new smart ring player, Circular, capable of correlating your day and night metrics, blood oxygenation, heart rate variability, temperature, steps, breathing rates, and a whole lot more. Even fashion companies like Ralph Lauren have developed a biometric smart shirt with tech startup OmSignal.

The world now has smart shoes from known sports companies such as Nike and Under Armour and China tech companies like Xiaomi, providing smart footwear that helps improve an athlete's performance. These shirts can track biometric data such as steps taken, heart rate, breathing depth, and even energy exertion. Many other smart footwear startups have started developing and releasing their products into the market. Feetme, 3L Labs, E-Vone, Salted Venture, and Boltt Sports Technologies, to name a few.

Taken from a recent report by Allied Market Research, the global smart sensor market is projected to account for $60 billion by this year, with a growing CAGR of 19.2% from 2016 to 2022. This growth plays a huge factor in equipping more wearables with better measurement capabilities.

Advancements in nanotechnology, form factor, and computing power

One primary factor that helped usher in the era of the wearable smart device would be the advancements in nanotechnology and the miniaturization of chips. Technology continued to get smaller and smaller, while the computing power and capabilities got better and better. Some wearables are now employing nanomaterial sensors capable of detecting and measuring external stimuli, converting these into digital data, and transmitting those to a processing unit. As demand calls for lightweight and flexible devices, many developers looked towards nanotechnology to solve this problem. One such example is Nanowear, a US-based startup with their flagship product, the SimpleSENSE. This cloth-based smart wear is infused with nanotechnology, designed to help prevent heart failure.

Of course, it's not enough that the technology is more diminutive in form factor, but improved performance is also a must. Chip manufacturers continue to create better and more robust solutions through their chipsets, all while aiming to provide a smaller footprint. Just look at the computer. What used to fit into an entire room can now fit into the palm of your hand.

Cloud connectivity, big data, and A.I.

All the previous examples mentioned earlier are wearables that collect data to transmit it for further processing and analysis, which means one basic necessity, reliable connectivity. Today's advancements in wireless communication play a huge role in the birth of wearables. As the world ventures into fully implementing 5G across the world, more and more data is being sent to the cloud.

Wearables are used heavily in the medical and fitness industries; they can collect biometric data, send these to the cloud and use A.I. to create assessments and recommendations. Based on the numbers from Statista, there are approximately 1 billion connected wearable devices today. All these devices require wireless connectivity to send data to the cloud.

The measurement and collection of data aren't enough. There needs to be a call to action from the data collected. Imagine a smartwatch that measures the number of steps a user has taken daily. How does that information now become helpful to its users?

A.I. provides that next step by taking into account a user's vital statistics and creating recommendations for a user to take to improve one's health. This means developers can now tailor fit an intelligent assistant within the wearable. Look at the smartwatches available today; most if not all use A.I. to process the data collected.

Other use cases of A.I. in wearables could also include enhancing augmented and virtual reality.

Tech giants are looking towards the Metaverse as the next frontier, with mixed reality devices helping bridge that gap of physical reality to the virtual. One such tech giant is Qualcomm, whose CEO, Cristiano Amon, recently announced their collaboration with Microsoft to help usher in the age of the Metaverse using the Snapdragon chipset.


What else is in store for wearables?

Aside from the commonly known smartwatches and fitness trackers, the world of wearables has many exciting new trends coming. Listed here are some handpicked wearables products that will turn heads soon.

Smart Rings

Sure, smart rings aren't necessary new. However, recent product announcements such as the NFC OPN give the other smart rings a run for their money today. This product touts being equipped with payment technology, unlocking a phone, tablet, and even a smart lock in your smart home. These devices can be used to share Wifi information, online links, contact information, and more to a friend's smart device. The list goes on, but the best feature so far? It never needs to be charged. Powered by NXP's NFC technology, this Smart Ring has people turning their heads, opening new ways to engage in commerce and interact with the digital environment.

Medical Wearable Devices

The Airofit Pro Breathing Trainer is a device full of promise. It is made explicitly for breathing training. This device measures a user's lung function and helps improve breathing. Designed by breathing experts, it links up to an app that provides the guidance one needs to achieve optimal lung performance. The device does more than measure your lung functions; it also helps improve breathing muscle efficiency and endurance through airflow resistance. It comes with adjustable settings for more customized and optimized training for athletes.

Smart Glasses

Smart glasses aren't new either. There are smart glasses in the market today that integrate audio, microphones, and a mini display in the device. Some connect to smart assistants like the Amazon Echo, while others connect to smartphones via Bluetooth to stream audio and even take calls.

However, one company designed smart glasses meant for digitally connected workers.

In this year's CES 2022, the Vuzix Shield Smart Glasses turned heads. Designed more as an enterprise solution, these glasses are powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon XR1 platform and work like a mini heads-up display (HUD). The cameras are enabled with augmented reality making these glasses hands-free for remote viewing or even remote guidance. It has immersive noise-canceling microphones, perfect for working in loud environments. In the medical space, this device does well for remote operations, instruction, and mentoring. Engineers and designers are now able to solve problems with people worldwide using such tools. Use cases for the Vuzix Shield include medical, logistics, and industrial applications, but the applications are virtually limitless.



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