BOSTON, November 25, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — As the smartwatch market matures, the capabilities of alternative wearables continue to expand. In the next few years, alternative form factors could begin to tempt consumers. These devices could not only provide more value, but also have the potential to access new biometric data. The wearable technology industry is being driven by demand for more data, but is facing maturity during an era of economic contraction. This article summarizes what life could be like beyond the rise of smartwatches, with three trends to watch out for.
Headphones: listening to our emotions
Adoption of Apple AirPods has increased tenfold in the last five years, with Bluetooth technology bringing true wireless stereo to the mass market. Like their smartwatch peers, the price of these hearing devices remains high and consumers may start turning to cheaper options without innovation. However, headsets have one key advantage that wrist-worn ones don’t: They’re close to the brain.
The proximity of the ear to the brain could give the most advanced headphones a commercial advantage for years to come. The metal electrodes used to measure electrical signals from the heart (ECG) can also measure neural activity (EEG). This is covered in the dedicated IDTechEx report on wearable sensors.
Measurements of brain signals can quantify stress, sleep quality, and emotional state, as well as diagnose epilepsy. It is already possible to buy headbands with integrated EEG, but they are much less fashionable and are mainly sold as novelty toys. The challenge to date for an in-ear solution has been the miniaturization of electronics and noise cancellation. However, in recent years, some companies, such as Naox Technologies and Kokoon, have shown that EEG-integrated hearing devices are feasible.
At the same time, the demand for emotional state data is also growing. Advertisers are increasingly turning to EEG to access it. For example, it is now commonly used to gauge viewer engagement with Super Bowl ads.
Until now, the big brands have refrained from adding new sensor technology to their hearing aids. It has long been possible to put optical heart rate sensors into headphones, and while sports-specific devices do exist, it hasn’t quite made it to the mass market. This is probably because the priority has been to improve the audio quality. It is also because it provides a repeating data set available on the watch. In addition, the headphones cannot offer real-time data display.
However, given their unique ability to interpret neural signals, now might be the time for hearing aids to play a more advanced role in collecting user data via EEG. In fact, implantable electrodes are already being used to communicate with exoskeletons to allow paraplegics to walk. So while 2023 might be a little early to see the mass adoption of mind-reading headsets, it might well be time to see a shift in focus from breakthroughs in switching from big-brand wristbands to hearing aids. Consumers who aren’t impressed by the incremental improvements in smartwatch hardware may limit their spending on new consumer electronics to a more impressive pair of headphones.
Removable Pods and Performance Analytics: A More Tailored Approach to Wearable Device Adoption
Smartwatches and fitness trackers currently dominate the activity tracking market, but demand for a more personalized approach could be on the horizon. Much of the value gained from our wearables comes from software that analyzes our movements. However, there are limits to the raw movement data available only with a watch, and the data analytics available from platforms built for athletes also have mass-market advantages.
Currently, the hardware limits the use of watches during contact sports, as it is too dangerous. Also, motion detectable from the wrist cannot capture specific movements associated with some sports very accurately, for example, weight lifting or body strength exercises. A proposed solution for the professional athlete market is the use of removable capsules.
The removable modules can contain the same motion and hearing rate sensors found in smartwatches, but are held in place via pockets on the chest straps, underwear, or pants (more information on these is covered). types of sensors in the report of portable sensors). It is now common to see major league football players and NFL players wearing Statsport or Kinexon chest straps. Similarly, professional golfers and cyclists are embracing whoop bands that can be worn on the wrist or adapted to be inserted into clothing.
For some companies, elite athletes have served as a marketing tool for their wearables. As such, the ability to gain enhanced stress and recovery information, as well as the ability to wear pods and wrist straps, is beginning to reach a broader market. This trend is likely to continue into 2023, especially since much of the value of this business model lies in the software. This allows companies like Whoop to offer a subscription to their platform, which includes the hardware. This could make it more affordable for the consumer market, which would value up-to-date hardware as standard. In the future, packages aimed at hobby athletes and the broader wellness market are likely to emerge. Consumers would appreciate the opportunity to select a more personalized approach to fitness tracking, combining removable capsules, watches, performance analysis and data sharing to suit their needs.
Headphones and glasses: preparation for the metaverse
What lies beyond the smartwatch will be largely dictated by the future of our interaction with each other and the Internet. Today it’s standard to use a laptop, smartphone, and possibly also a smartwatch for activity tracking and hands-free communication if desired. But this ecosystem has been the status quo for many years and could be ripe for disruption.
Phone design has stagnated in recent years, and combined with post-pandemic “zoom fatigue,” there are signs that consumers are hungry for something more immersive.
This is where the concept of ‘meta-verse’ comes in. The development of augmented reality headsets and smart glasses could one day make the smartphone redundant, taking smartwatches with it. Wearable biometrics will likely follow if society shifts to headsets for messaging, web browsing, and gaming.
AR/VR (virtual/augmented reality) headsets already need motion sensors and cameras for eye tracking. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine the integration of dry electrodes on the forehead, collecting heart rate data and measuring neural signals.
This kind of revolution is very likely to paint a picture of the world beyond the smartwatch. However, the success of this shift will be driven by advances in display optics, which are still a few years away from reaching mass-market-ready levels of miniaturization. Meanwhile, helmets and smart glasses need to become more socially accepted. As such, interim products (like Ray Bans with an integrated camera) will likely continue to be released to make them more modern. Similarly, gaming headsets are already seen in a growing number of TV ads. While they may seem unsettling to some now, next year society will probably feel much more comfortable with them.
The main hurdle facing headsets, removable domes, and earphones is balancing data access with visualization and social acceptance. Real-time activity monitoring is a great advantage of wearable devices; seeing it live on a watch is a huge selling point. This feature will likely drive consumer adoption of new wearables based on connectivity with existing smartwatches. In terms of social acceptance, integration into hardware that is owned by the right brand will be crucial. The marketing challenge facing manufacturers seeking to appeal to a broader demographic of consumers, elite athletes, and the medical market is not trivial, but it is equally outside the experience of today’s leaders in consumer electronics. The smartwatch is likely to follow the path of the smartphone and become less impressive but continually in demand. The real opportunity is within the next generation of wearables, smartwatches will be connected to meet the demand for new features. This market has much more room for new players, materials and innovation.
IDTechEx offers a broad portfolio of market research white papers covering many aspects of the wearable technology space. These include wearable sensors, electronic skin patches, AR/VR, electronic textiles, and hearing devices. IDTechEx also has related content dedicated to remote patient monitoring, diabetes management, and printed sensors. All of these reports cover the current status and expected future developments, both in terms of technical capabilities and commercial adoption. Granular forecasts segmented by technology and application help plan future projects, while multiple company profiles based on primary interviews provide insights into major players. Multiple application examples, SWOT analysis, and technology/commercial readiness assessments are also included in the reports.
More details and downloadable sample pages for each report can be found in the IDTechEx website, and for more information on IDTechEx’s wearable technology research, visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/WT.
IDTechEx guides your strategic business decisions through its Research, Underwriting and Consulting products, helping you benefit from emerging technologies. For more information, contact [email protected] or visit www.IDTechEx.com.
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