As the smart watch market evolves, and wearable technology becomes ubiquitous, it's inevitable that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will find a way to incorporate health-monitoring features into the latest products.
Naturally, the design of any new smart watch must take into consideration those smartphone features that have become part of our everyday lives. These include the ability to search the Internet and tap into social media, websites, and email, plus advanced camera technology.
It should come as no surprise that many smart watches act as complementary devices to smartphones. They connect to smartphones via Bluetooth, giving consumers the chance to use their smart watches to make and receive calls; view email and text messages; and view the time, weather updates, and stock prices, all without picking up a smartphone.
Another point of interest is projected market growth. Research firm BI Intelligence forecasts that 91.6 million smart watch units, with an average selling price of about $100, will be sold globally in 2018. That would mean a $9 billion market.
As innovation takes hold, health monitoring may become the most compelling differentiator in smart watches as consumers work to lose weight and stay healthy. A number of technology leaders already seem to be enthralled with this idea.
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. has already introduced its line of Galaxy Gear smart watches with health monitoring sensors, and Qualcomm Inc has introduced the latest version of its Qualcomm Toq smart watch, which features an activity tracker. Intel recently bought Basis, the maker of the Basis health tracker smart watch.
If we are to believe press reports, Apple is not far behind. Apple has yet to introduce its smart watch to the market, but rumors are swirling that later this year the company will unveil a product with health features.
Apple iWatch concept iMe.
(Source: ADR Studio)
Smart watches are a burgeoning market, and finding the right features that satisfy demand while introducing a time piece on a small form factor that is stylish, trendy, and affordable is a challenging proposition. Usefulness, of course, is just as critical.
Introducing a valuable health component in a smart watch may very well be a differentiating factor that can have a significant impact on what research firm Canalys describes as the smart wearable bands market.
In a February report, Canalys noted that Samsung's launch of the Galaxy Gear "gained significant consumer interest," and shipments of the device "took Samsung to the top of the smart band category."
The research group also said that while the smart wearable bands market is relatively small and primarily serves fitness enthusiasts, wearable bands represent a huge opportunity in the medical and wellness market segment. The report said:
2014 will be the year that wearables become a key consumer technology, as the smart band segment is estimated to reach 8 million annual shipments. Canalys estimates that this number will grow to over 23 million units by 2015 and over 45 million by 2017.
It's not impossible to think that companies that introduce smart watches with health features may very well capture a significant number of consumers in the US and across the globe.
Think about this: World Health Organization estimates in 2008 revealed that more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, worldwide were overweight. That figure has only gotten larger (no pun intended).
Closer to home, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that more than a third of adults and 17% of youth in the US are obese. Furthermore, being overweight is tied to other health conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, all of which are expensive medical conditions to treat.
Another study on obesity produced by the United Health Foundation, in collaboration with the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention, concluded that:
The US is expected to spend $344 billion on health care costs attributable to obesity in 2018 if rates continue to increase at their current levels. Obesity related direct expenditures are expected to account for more than 21 percent of the nation's direct health care spending in 2018.
These trends make it easier for companies to develop a smart watch strategy that promotes health features. Last year Samsung introduced the Galaxy Gear, which the company says can work like a pedometer that tracks physical activity via enhanced, built-in sensor technology. This smart watch allows users to track calories burned, steps taken, and distance covered. Take a look here:
In February, the company unveiled the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit. Depending on which device you buy (the Gear Fit has the most health monitoring features) these smart watches allow users to personalize their fitness programs by using built-in heart rate sensors and pedometers to track their type of exercise, which may include running, walking, cycling, and hiking.
Added to this, these smart watches rely on Samsung's smartphones and tablet devices for Internet access and connect via Bluetooth to display message notifications, handle calls, and access Samsung's S Voice vocal assistant. The Gear 2 smart watch even has a camera.
It will be interesting to see what Apple has to offer when it introduces its smart watch. I'm sure there will be a feature that allows consumers to use the product for health monitoring purposes. That said, the battle for the smart watch market is on. Who will win is anyone's guess.
This story is part of the Special Report: Top 25 global electronics distributors. Read more from this report including coverage of the evolving market, the supply chain, the impact of big data and the IoT.