I've been researching the wearables market for the past two weeks in preparation for ARM Wearables Week (an event at which I'm consulting), and I thought I would share some of the interesting insights I received from some very smart people.
First and foremost, I made the mistake of thinking this is an emerging market, but I was corrected by Shane Walker of IHS, who points out that it's already a $6 billion market this year and is expected to rise to $33 billion by 2019.
Stacy Wegner, the wearables analyst at Teardown.com, took a look at 23 wearables in the market right now and discovered some emerging hardware trends. First, getting all the sensors, connectivity, battery, and display in such a small form factor (whether on the wrist, head, or chest) requires increasing levels of systems integration — and we are literally seeing incredibly sophisticated systems being worn on one's wrist. Second, and perhaps more crucially, is creating products that consume very little power. Some devices, like the Xiaomi Mi Band (using the ARM Cortex M0+), can run for a year on a coin cell battery.
Of course, high-end watches with touch screens and graphics running quad cores (ARM Cortex-A7) need to be charged every few days. Charging and connecting wearables seems to be emerging as major points of contention with regard to their adoption by users. Adam Traidman, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur formerly with Cadence, told me that research he undertook for a startup revealed that most users stop sporting a wearable after four to six weeks. The hassle factor of charging the device is a major disincentive.
This seems like a perfect application for wireless charging, yet Wegner found only one device that used this approach (the Qualcomm Toq). Most of the others had a pesky cradle to lose. You have probably read right here on EE Times about the standards tussle going in on in wireless charging, but is this the only thing holding back widespread adoption?
The newly announced WaRP board (where “WaRP” stands for “Wearable Reference Platform”) from Freescale, shown below, has wireless charging capability on the daughterboard, so this might help speed adoption.
Traidman also cited another major adoption issue, which has nothing to do with technology. This issue is the business model for the devices and how they have to tap into human psychology in order to work. Whenever we expect to see a product succeed just because it's good for you, we will almost always be disappointed. Human nature tends to reward short-term pleasure (yes, I will have that doughnut) over long-term benefits (I will go the gym today), so how does this work in the wearables market? His hypothesis is that wearables will be linked to short-term incentives (you get them for free or even get paid to wear them) coupled with long-term benefits (your health and well-being) that are paid for by your insurance company or employer. This is a radical approach that drags the privacy issue into the light, but that's not an issue I want to address here (unless you do).
Before we get embroiled in the ways wearables aren't working or will invade our privacy, we should look at the good they can bring us in terms of health and safety. I spoke to Zvika Orron from LifeBEAM, an Israeli startup that brings an array of vital signs together in a sensor matrix that has obvious applicability in lifesaving medical applications. As a proof point, the startup has designed a bike helmet as illustrated below.
This helmet is on the market today for $229. It measures your heart rate, calories, and performance, and it provides a good indication of the benefits that might come from wearable devices in the future.
To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.