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Design boom seen in wearables market

03 Dec 2014  | Suzanne Deffree

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It's somewhat a given that once Apple enters into a market, there's good growth ahead and that it is, indeed, stable enough for the tech giant to invest its time and resources.

The iconic company did invest its time when it released the Apple Watch last quarter, going up against the likes of Google's Android Wear and others in the burgeoning wearables area of design.

Arguably until recently wearables had been an experimental market with LED or fashion-based one-off designs leading the small pack and few names recognisable beyond Becky Stern, director of wearable electronics at maker- and open-sourced focused Adafruit.

As we turn to 2015 and beyond, however, wearables become an explosive hardware design opportunity—one that is closely tied to both consumer and healthcare markets, and that could pick up steam in the way software did during the smartphone app explosion. Better yet, it's an opportunity that is still anyone's game.

Becky Stern

Becky Stern, director of wearable electronics at Adafruit, has been designing wearables at the Brooklyn-based company and elsewhere far longer than the term "wearables" has been fashionable and is considered one of the foremost experts in DIY wearable tech.

Healthy market

Perhaps the most current recognisable wearable to the mainstream consumer is the Fitbit line of devices, which accounted for approximately 67 per cent of the 3.3 million fitness bands and activity trackers sold between April 2013 and March 2014 in the United States, by NPD Group estimates. But the handy wristband is only the start.

Fitbit devices

Fitbit devices have accounted for approximately 67 per cent of the 3.3 million fitness bands and activity trackers sold between April 2013 and March 2014 in the United States.

According to IDTechEx, the wearable electronics business will climb from more than $14 billion in 2014 to a more than $70 billion market in 2024. The dominant sector is expected to remain healthcare, which merges medical, fitness and wellness, says the market research company. As evidenced in the below chart, a large amount of the development for healthcare wearables will come from the North America sector, unsurprising as the United States' Baby Boomer generation ages and serious health issues including diabetes that could benefit from monitoring and other wellness wearables are on the rise.

Wearables developers by territory

This chart shows wearable electronics developers and manufacturers for healthcare by territory. (Source: ID TechEx)

Next smartphone, but difficult design path

Even with solid growth expected to continue for healthcare wearables, the sector could find itself facing off against other consumer wearables. As example, Fitbit is expected to lose sales to activity tracking apps found on smartphones. And, while not yet a direct replacement for the smartphone, wearables like Google Glass and the Apple Watch aim to bring many smartphone features to new form factors.

"Even software companies are saying, 'hardware is the new software' because apps can now be modules or hardwired disposables, and the intellectual property of the new hardware, such as sensing, energy harvesting/storing woven fibres, may be more disruptive and easily protected. The huge wearable technology market is now entering a rapid growth phase," IDTechEx wrote in a September 2014 report.

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