Wearables didn’t start with the Apple Watch. Its history is far richer. A sketch made by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci in 1472 depicted what historians to believe as the first pedometer. Then, in 1788, Thomas Jefferson introduced the first pedometer to the US market, based on the watch. Since then wearable technology has evolved and changed. Always a tool to improve and support health and well-being, wearables over the century have included pacemakers, hearing aids, and medical alarms. In more recent years, wearables made a splash in the sports and performance arena with fitness trackers.
Basic wearables take many forms
Many of these first wearables have been basic wristbands that run integrated apps to track heart rates and steps. In more recent years, basic wearables were designed into accessories that could be clipped to a belt, strapped to your ankle, or worn around your neck.
Now that basic wearable wristbands are becoming a market commodity, sensor-laden clothing and footwear are becoming a novel way to use wearables. In 2017, clothing wearables experienced a 79% year-over-year growth rate since 2014. Earwear, too, increased by 129% over the same period.
Wearables get smart
It’s not just the wearable options that have evolved, wearables have gotten smart. Now able to support third-party apps, smart wearables will see the market ship 222.3 million units, an 18.4% CAGR since 2017. Smart watches will take the lead in this category, expecting to ship 149.5 units in 2021 (compared to 61.5 million in 2017) as fashion brands and other vendors build smart connectivity into their watches.
For now, smartwatches and other consumer wearable technology will continue to support fitness and health-related features. However, as technologies and capabilities evolve, wearables will become a more prominent feature in industry verticals.
Wearables in industry
Healthcare has been the prime arena for wearables and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, including remote monitoring and patient tracking. However, wearables now have more innovative applications in hospital settings. For example, hygiene wearables can be worn by professionals to detect cleanliness and remind them to wash their hands as they get close to a patient’s bed.
In industrial sectors, like mining, oil, gas, manufacturing, and transport, wearables can be used to improve worker safety. A fatigue monitoring solution, for example, can detect truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel and notify employers. For miners, wearables can collect data about air quality as well as the miners’ health, and other features that can reduce risks for workers and costs for employers.
Wearables of tomorrow
By looking ahead, wearables will become a key contributor to advancing IoT technologies. IDC predicts wearables will “play an important role in the evolution of augmented reality technology.”
Technology companies will also want to consider how wearable technology can be used to manage a group of IoT devices and systems. As businesses, homes, and cars become infused with intelligent devices, there will be a growing need to efficiently manage each of these in a coordinated, complementary way.
Smartphones and the web are the clear choices today, however, technology companies and developers may want to consider more innovative applications using the smartwatch or other smart wearables.
There are risks with collecting and sharing personal biometric and health data, which will require an intelligent platform that can detect, select, track and analyze data in real-time.