The wearable-computing market: a global analysis

1 Summary

During a Formula 1 race a driver experiences wrenching forces of more than 4.5G. His heart rate may exceed 180 beats per minute and his blood pressure could rise by half. With soaring temperatures inside the cramped cockpit he will also dehydrate, typically losing 2–3 litres of water during the race. Yet the driver must concentrate well enough to achieve lap times that might vary by just a tenth of a second. This is tough, on both mind and body. Hence it is not just the performance of the car itself which an array of sensors keeps an eye on, wirelessly transmitting data about the engine, suspension and so on to the pit crews. The drivers’ own vital signs are constantly monitored, too.

Economist, Nov. 3, 2011

Wearable computing, or wearables, has recently moved from the realm of science fiction and military technology to being on the cusp of commonplace consumer technology. ABI Research estimates the global market for wearables in health and fitness could reach 170 million devices by 2017. Adding further momentum to the growth of the market is the entry of most of the major platforms into the space, including Google, Microsoft and Apple.

The first several decades of wearable computing failed to produce any notable success stories on the consumer front, but advances in materials sciences, battery power, augmented reality and chip evolution have made the possibilities for wearables grow rapidly. Google’s recent unveiling of Project Glass has garnered a great deal of attention, but the market is much broader and includes fashion, health and wellness technologies, and technologies for the aging and disabled. As the quantified-self trend gains traction the use of wearables will grow too. This report covers wearables across these verticals as well as provides examples of how applications developed in one area can enable blue-ocean strategies to open up new market opportunities. (Blue-ocean strategies imply not competing with existing market competitors but instead opening up the market space, or blue ocean, to make the competition irrelevant.)

Finally, one of the more interesting aspects of wearable computing is the potential impact it could have on the form function of mobiles down the road. Much of the functionality of a smartphone can currently be rendered within a wearable device, and as wearable devices become more common over the next decade mainstream devices such as the cell phone may be rethought.