Over the past five years or so, we’ve seen the spectacular rise of wearables - and if you follow CES, you know that wearables became a significant category on the show floor. Anecdotally, humans have been wearing bracelets and necklaces for over 100,000 years, imbuing them with meaning and significance.
When Wearables 1.0 first hit the market, consumers went wild about tracking the number of steps they were taking. People believed that these trackers would help them live healthier lifestyles. But the novelty soon wore off - to the point that people just abandoned these devices six months into their fitness journey.
As new technologies enabled packing more features into different form factors, wearables has become an omnibus category that now encompasses products ranging from smartwatches, to fitness trackers, to earbuds, as well as virtual reality and other head-gear - to clothing and other textile-based products - and to a slew of sensor-based IoT devices yet to come. Popular wearables are also enabling pet-owners to track their beloved cat or dog.
The brand landscape in wearables is rapidly evolving, and is now consolidated around a few key players. In terms of units shipped, the four clear market leaders in 2016 were: Fitbit, Xiaomi, Garmin and Apple. Fitbit and Xiaomi were leading in the activity-tracker category, accounting for 41 percent and 28 percent of units shipped, respectively, according to IDC. Garmin dominated the sports watch category with 26 percent, and Apple stood out in the connected-watch segment with a total of 44 percent of units shipped last year. Other brands such as Samsung and LG were also vying for market share - whether with fitness bands or in VR.
After the high-flying popularity of wearables, Q4 of 2016 offered a more sobering picture. While fitness trackers continued to dominate revenue in the wearables market, actual sales slowed, with Fitbit announcing employee layoffs in January 2017, according to USA Today.
The slowdown in shipments and a fall in value are partly explained by waning appeal, lack of breakthrough products as well as price decreases in most product categories. These are also indicators that some markets are maturing and saturating.
We are in a transition period. The data seems to indicate that while there was a slowdown in 2016, the mainstream market will continue to purchase Fitbit, Garmin and Misfit trackers and there are signs of ‘ life’ in the smartwatch category with the introduction of new watches with greater capabilities. New VR glasses and headsets are coming, and many at lower price points, and so is content: the driving reason to purchase VR devices.
Evolving Design, Form Factors & Uses
There is likely to be a move away from plain-looking fitness trackers to slimmer and sleeker hybrid devices like the new Fitbit Alta HR fitness wristband and sleep tracker. It features a strap that looks like it came from the Fitbit Charge 2 – plus it also contains a heart rate monitor.
Under Armour’s SpeedForm Gemini 3 RE running shoes feature a tiny chip embedded in the sole, which awakens when the shoe moves. When it detects you’re moving faster than 11 minutes per mile, it starts tracking you using its accelerometer.
Meanwhile Hexoskin has a range of smart shirts that measure heart rate, breathing rate, activity intensity, steps taken and cadence. This type of clothing is not only relevant to sportsters, but also for chronic disease management and seniors aging-in-place.
Smartwatches: New Beginnings in 2017
Going into 2017, there was a new sense of optimism for wearables at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, particularly with the launch of the Android Wear 2.0 platform. This is good news for the channel.
In an effort to topple the popularity of Apple’s Smartwatch, Google has teamed up with LG in a Nexus-style partnership to produce the first devices powered by Android Wear 2.0: the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style. Of the two models, which both feature circular, plastic OLED displays, Watch Sport is the flagship device, based on a higher-resolution screen and having more RAM internal storage.
Both timepieces feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and the Sport model includes cellular connectivity (with both 3G and LTE data) as well as GPS and NFC radios, which allows the watch to take advantage of Android Wear 2.0’s Android Pay capability.
Along with iOS compatibility, the two watches also share another commonality with the Apple Watch: a digital crown button that serves to facilitate navigation. The displays are touch-sensitive as well, and boast handwriting recognition. Other features include Integration of Google Assistant as well as a heart rate sensor.
Google also confirmed upgrades to the Android Wear 2.0 platform for watches, such as: Moto 360 Gen 2, Moto 360 Sport, LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, LG Watch Urbane, LG G Watch R; Polar M600, Casio Smart Outdoor Watch, Nixon Mission, Tag Heuer Connected, Fossil Q Wander, Fossil Q Marshal, Fossil Q Founder, Michael Kors Access Bradshaw Smartwatch, Michael Kors Access Dylan Smartwatch, Huawei Watch, Huawei Watch Ladies, AsusZenWatch 2 and Asus ZenWatch 3.
Huawei made a lot of noise at MWC with the introduction of the Huawei Watch 2 and the Huawei Watch 2 Classic - and based on the features its targeting people who prioritize fitness above aesthetics or general smartwatch usage. Both are loaded with connectivity and new features, including LTE (in the Watch 2), GPS, heart rate sensors, and NFC for Android Pay. The new heart rate sensor will continuously track heart rates, and both watches come loaded with Huawei’s Fit program that personalizes a training program based on goals and prior performance. A version of this program debuted on the Huawei Fit fitness tracker last year. It was expected to hit the U.S. market around April.
A Porsche-designed version of Huawei Watch 2, featuring a Porsche Design logo and special watch face, is also coming.
Of course, there is also the Samsung Gear 3 Classic and Gear Frontier that were introduced in November. Its features are similar to the Huawei line including new heart rate sensors, and while these models also have NFC for mobile payment, instead of Android Pay, it’s Samsung Pay. And instead of running on the Android Wear 2.0 platform, it runs on Tizen
Sports & Training
At CES 2017, Coros, a startup positioned at the intersection of active sports and mobile lifestyle, introduced its LINX Smart Cycling Helmet. It uses bone-conduction technology instead of earbuds to let riders safely listen to their music, receive calls, and communicate with other bikers while maintaining full awareness of cars and their immediate surroundings. LINX comes with a wireless smart remote so the rider can keep eyes on the road and hands on the bars while controlling media and calls with the tap of a button. There is a mobile app available for ride-tracking. Riders can download the iOS or Android app to manage GPS ride details, stats, routes, voice navigation and voice data. The LINX Helmet also includes an emergency alert system that is triggered when the G-sensor senses significant impact, which sends an alert with GPS notification to a designated loved one.
The future of wearables and IoT is constantly influencing the sports world. Sports data can be used to boost athletes’ results, improve training and coaching methods and prevent sporting injuries, or sensors embedded in helmets are quickly able to diagnose a concussion for speedier treatment. This applies to sports at a local school or college, as well as professionally.
Recently, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association reached a bargaining agreement that prohibits the teams from using a player’s wearable data in contract negotiations or transactions. The agreement ensures that wearable data will only be used for tactical purposes and an arbitrator will be able to impose fines of up to $250,000 on a team for misusing the data.
A wearable committee will be set up to handle the approval of new wearables and to ban wearables that become safety or security risks. Several devices have already been approved by the league, including models from Adidas, Catapult, Intel, and VERT.
The NBA isn’t the only sport to dabble with wearables, though; the NFL, NHL, and others are all looking into incorporating wearables, either in training or in actual games.
As we move into Wearables 2.0, a new paradigm is emerging. Anything that can be connected will be connected. This includes everything related to wearables, since they are powered by sensors and IoT and may also incorporate other technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Concurrently, the new gold currency that is emerging is based on data collection - and for the consumer to know more about their personalized data than ever before. It’s about monitoring, data gathering, and remote functionality for real-time or predictive ‘connected intelligence’ for consumers as well as their physicians or caretakers.
The question becomes, what will these data-gathering wearables replace in the future? How will they enhance one’s lifestyle or work? What’s the direction of trends; what are the upcoming features, form and functions?
Health & Fitness
Insurance companies and corporations are beginning to bet that the combination of wearables and data with financial incentives might motivate employees to lead healthier lifestyles. Health insurance giant United Healthcare rolled out Motion, which is powered by Qualcomm Life’s 2net platform. Following a pilot in 2016, the duo announced at CES 2017 the nationwide launch and integration of Fitbit’s Charge 2. It will enable participants to earn up to $4 per day in credits by tracking their progress and achieving one or more of their daily goals - including simply walking. When using the Fitbit device, participants can earn up to $1,500 in Health Savings Account or Health Reimbursement Account credits per year.
At HIMSS, the Health IT show held in February, Samsung showcased how its Galaxy tablets were being used for pain management in Southern Hills Hospital, a leading Las Vegas medical facility, together with the implementation of AccendoWave headband technology. The cutting-edge solution collects patient feedback on pain, and provides games, music, video clips and full-length movies from DirecTV to help keep patients occupied. It’s a way to accurately measure and proactively address patient pain and discomfort.
Verizon is another player to watch, whether for consumer products, IoT devices demanding connectivity or in relation to consumer wearables for health through connected technology. It is connecting devices like those from Withings, including the Withings Activité Steel Activity and Sleep Tracking Watch. It is water resistant, and offers compatible-device syncing, tracking capabilities, and up to eight months’ battery power, syncs to a compatible smartphone, and is sleek-looking. It also comes with a free Health Mate app that will make the user feel like he/she has 24/7 access to a personal trainer.
Anything that can be connected will be connected. It’s up to the channel to understand the analytics of its customers and what will sell, because there is going to be a greater merging and blending of categories than ever before. Aside from 24/7 connectivity of everything, the new currency will be the data that is collected - and the value proposition of these products will be based not only on actual functionality but increasingly, on how this data will enhance your customer’s lifestyle or work productivity. New opportunities are springing up, not just in the mainstream but also in vertical markets - whether with schools for sports or education programs, or in health-and-wellness programs and related facilities.
Stay tuned, because we’re just at the beginning of Wearables 2.0.