Entrepreneurial designers are creating new ideas for wearable and connected devices daily. Consumers are racing to support their Kickstarter campaigns. Unfortunately, many brilliant ideas are killed when it comes time to move from prototype to full-scale manufacturing.
There's no question that these markets holds great promise. For example, ABI Research predicted that 455 million wearable devices will be sold by 2019, generating $46.5 billion of revenue worldwide. Healthcare devices will account for the largest chunk of the pie, with 121 million smart watches accounting for $21 billion in sales, the research firm said.
“The barriers to entry are low in the wearables market, because the parts exist,” Robert Thompson, director of consumer business development for microcontrollers at Freescale Semiconductor, told us. But many great ideas founder as part procurement starts.
At the same time, the crowdfunding community is pushing back on designers to make sure they've considered manufacturing and procurement issues. “One of the major challenges that crowdfunding sites have run into is that a product idea will go on the site, get funded, and then run into problems with manufacturing,” said Sam Wurzel, CEO and co-founder of the online parts sourcing company Octopart. “Today, these crowdsourcing companies are highly incentivized to maximize the number of campaigns that are successful.”
Smart designers search for parts that are already in use in other markets and design them in, but there is a downside to this approach, Wurzel said. “One challenge that everyone in the wearable markets [will face] will be around end-of-life products and availability.” Many designers go with smartphone market parts, and the lifecycle on those is about 18 months.
Small and midsized design firms in the early stages of product production can't simply call up a franchised distributor and buy a few hundred parts. “A lot of memory makers, for example, don't go through distribution for these parts,” Thompson said.
The electronics industry is starting to find ways to help these entrepreneurs find ways to design new devices for manufacturing from the start. Freescale Semiconductor, for example, announced its Freescale-Enabled Wearables Reference Platform (WaRP) early this year. “We provide the parts that allow you to make the finished product,” Thompson said. “We want to help people get to market as quickly as possible while addressing development challenges that include form factor, battery life, cost, and usability.”
The reference design includes a board, schematics, Gerber files, design files, and a complete bill of materials. The components used have been chosen both for technical specifications and for potential ease of sourcing. It is priced at $149 and is currently available for pre-order. It is expected to ship in October.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN