Where We Stand with Wearables

on March 16, 2016

Oh, how far we’ve come from the Pulsar calculator watch 40 years ago. The now iconic gadget debuted in 1975 with tiny input buttons and limited functionality and can arguably be credited as the technology industry’s first “wearable.”

It wasn’t until the introduction of Bluetooth headsets and Apple’s iPhone in 2007 that wearable technology began the shift now underway from self-contained, single-issue devices towards a market of complex, interactive computers capable of virtually anything entrepreneurs can dream up. And only in the last 36 months have we seen the wearables era start to mature.

The wearables market topped $4.2 billion in 2015, up about 40 percent from the year before, according to research from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). And sales are expected to jump another 30 percent in 2016 to more than $5 billion.

We’ve seen phenomenal growth in this market thanks to a pronounced diversity of innovation. In the early stages of wearables, devices could track basic data like the number of steps you took. But in the past year or two, the capabilities have grown well beyond just measuring walking.

Most of today’s wearables are focused on maximizing our health and fitness. Wearables can now track not just the number of steps you take but also your heart rate, how far you ride your bike, how fast you ran. Some products can isolate measurements around very specific muscle groups, so it’s not just looking at the body, but also looking at very specific parts of the body.

And wearables aren’t just for measuring physical activity. They can help you get a better night’s sleep, too. Using a significant array of sensors, some wearables aim to improve sleep quality by capturing biometric data on heart and breathing rate, movement, body temperature, respiration and even perspiration. CTA has been working with device manufacturers and app creators to develop important standards for measuring sleep quality.

For women, Tempdrop’s wearable basal body temperature sensor tracks ovulation cycles through an ear bud that monitors your temperature and syncs with a fertility app to predict when you’re most likely to become pregnant.

The wonders of wearables aren’t limited to humans, either. The pet wearables market took off in 2015. From a GPS-enabled collar to track Fido’s whereabouts to virtual fence and leash technology to keep your pup from straying too far afield, wearables are truly for the whole family. One pet collar, still in the pre-order stage, is set to include two-way audio for keeping in contact with your furry friend if he’s out of earshot.

Another pet collar serves as a health monitor, tracking your pet’s temperature, pulse, respiration, activity and more. The data can be accessed by a veterinarian to help keep pets healthy.

We’re in an interesting experimental period, where our technological capabilities can capture and measure a wide array of personal data, analyze this information and then suggest an array of services based on this information.

The challenge for today’s wearables innovators is not in how to collect and analyze data; in many respects, we’re already there. Instead, innovators must prioritize meaningful data curation that results in actionable, customized advice to consumers. With wearables and their accompanying software deciphering the answers hidden in a sea of our personal data for us, we are empowered to make more meaningful decisions about our lifestyle, health and work.