Wearable health technology isn’t just about cool gadgets anymore. With devices to measure just about all aspects of our health, from fitness to fertility and everything in between, it’s no surprise that wearable health technology is on the rise.
Industry reports predict global sales will exceed $60 billion by 2025 as these devices become a standard part of life for many consumers. Personalized data is empowering both patients and physicians alike with new insights. Here we explore wearable health technology, the players involved, and where things are headed.
Defined as a smart electronic device worn close to the surface of the skin, wearable health technology has a variety of applications that continue to grow. The technology of wearables includes a wide range of devices and applications that work together to collect and display real-time health, motion, and other sensory data.
When we think of wearable technology, activity trackers such as FitBit usually come to mind. However, there are countless other devices and applications in the world of wearable tech than activity trackers. From smartphones to smart glasses and virtual reality to fertility trackers, wearable technology has come a long way. The new applications of wearable technology have spread from beyond simple activity trackers, to different areas such as security, wellness, lifestyle, glamour and communication.
Once little more than a glorified pedometer, most fitness trackers have the ability to measure much more than the steps you’ve taken. Dedicated wearable devices for fitness can help you move more, sleep better, and monitor your heart rate and position.
Some benefits of fitness wearables include accountability and motivation, not to mention the data you get regarding your physical activities. Being able to access this data over time can also help with setting goals and tracking your progress toward them.
Beyond fitness trackers, wellness wearables aim to integrate into essential parts of the consumer lifestyle. Reproductive-focused wearables are primarily designed to track female health data but there are male applications as well. Designed to monitor and track fertility, ovulation cycles, temperature, and more these devices are especially hot in the reproductive market.
Once the domain of professionals alone, consumers and clinicians have turned to the growing market of wearable health technology to collect personalized health data. With the combination of new medical devices and apps, these types of wearables offer individuals the ability to monitor everything from glucose levels to UVA exposure and other vital statistics. Health wearables offer the benefit of gathering long-term biometric data to better inform patient care with the added benefit of personalized health alerts.
The Major Players
Wearable technology itself isn’t exactly new since humans have been altering and augmenting their bodies for years. However, as we see new disruptive innovations come on the market, it’s important to see where these developments started and who the major players are.
Apple (Apple Watch)
From their humble beginnings with Nike and their collaboration on the Nike+ipod fitness tracking device, Apple has a long history in the wearables sector. They may not have been the first on the market, but with the introduction of the Apple Watch in 2015, wearable technology was well on its way to becoming mainstream.
Originally designed for fitness applications, Apple continues to update and refine its design to introduce new features and technologies. From their original Apple Watch that made smartphone features accessible on your wrist, Apple continues to introduce key developments like electrical heart sensors and heart health notifications in their latest designs. While smartwatches may not have completely transformed the world, they are gaining in traction and Apple is considered a pioneer.
A key player in the hardware market, Google first took on the world of wearable technology with the introduction of Google Glass in 2012. Google Glass, wearable in the form of an optical head-mounted display, or in other terms “smart glasses”, didn’t last long thanks to concerns about privacy and safety, as well as low consumer adoption.
Not one to be left behind, Google acquired Fitbit in an effort to expand into the health wearables market. Already a massive leader in popular software services, the acquisition of Fitbit gives Google the ability to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung in the consumer health wearables market.
Ahead of both Apple and Google when they announced their first smartwatch in 2013, Samsung has continued to evolve their efforts in wearable health tech. With several iterations of their smartwatch, Samsung has expanded its line of offerings to include fitness bands and earbuds. As one of the top choices for Android users, Samsung continues to be a leading manufacturer in wearable health tech, especially in the smartwatch category.
The Future of Wearables
As technology advances and consumers adopt wearables on a large scale, what does the future hold for wearable health technology?
With the line between reality and technology being blurred, future predictions are driving for flawless integration of this technology in our lives. The more we use them, the more information will be available to us as these devices get smaller and stronger.
Able to transmit and store data unlike ever before, wearables are not just for personal use anymore. Used by physicians, surgeons, and insurance companies, wearable health technology has the potential to shift the entire dynamics of healthcare.
As more devices enter the market and consumer adoption continues to increase, there is a treasure trove of data to be analyzed and explored. Big Data hopes to tackle this aspect of wearables by using the power of analytics to leverage the technology to its full potential. Whether this information is used to design offers based on the demands of each consumer, or to improve employee health and productivity, the potential is there for the integration of big data analytics and wearables.
Rather than focusing on a single wearable, future use may look like a system of sensors on your body, and how those systems integrate to give you a holistic view of your health.
With reports that more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology, wearable health tech is a booming market. And as device connectivity expands, it’s only natural that more accurate and advanced wearable sensors will be developed. As the tech industry, in general, focuses on sustainability, resilience, and evaluation of wearables, health technology will begin to move from the palm of our hands to the shirt on our backs.
Smart textiles, or wearables you actually wear as clothes, are emerging for use in applications from safety to fitness and fashion. Having multiple sensors on your body presents obvious opportunities for medical advancements and monitoring but it may have many other applications as well. From analyzing your golf swing to tracking how much you sweat, wearable textiles are fast becoming the forefront of wearable health technology.
Wearables have the potential to usher in a new paradigm for healthcare technology. Personal health, well-being, and wellness have never been more important in our changing world. As these technologies become more intelligent and interconnected with our lives, it’s exciting to see where the world of wearable health technology will take us.