Five years after the Apple Watch well and truly brought the concept of wearable tech to the mainstream, companies today are trying to break the smart watch mould - figuratively and literally.
When the Apple Watch was unveiled in September 2014, both fans and non-fans of Apple paused and gawked at the next big thing to hit the tech scene. Sure, wearables have always existed, and companies like Fitbit (now owned by Google) have long since made their fortune off this market segment, but it was only until recent years that the technology truly went mainstream, and this was kick started by Apple’s foray into the market.
After the massive success of the iPad and the boom in the tablet market, Apple was looking for the next big thing in tech. It made sure to tie it back to the suite of its devices, connecting the Apple Watch to the iPhone, Mac, and other the other devices in the Apple ecosystem. By the time of its release in 2015, the California-based manufacturer had generated enough hype for its device for it to become an instant hit.
“Apple Inc. sold twice as many Watches as iPhones in each device’s debut year,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported a year after the device’s release. “Apple doesn’t disclose sales, but analysts estimate about 12 million Watches were sold in year one,” the WSJ reports. “At an estimated average price of $500, that is a $6 billion business—three times the annual revenue of activity tracker Fitbit Inc.”
WSJ continued: “By comparison, Apple sold roughly six million iPhones in its first year,” Wakabayashi reports. “As a new entrant, the Watch accounted for about 61% of global smartwatch sales last year, according to researcher IDC.”
Apple’s earnings from its latest quarter (Q1 2020) show that its wearables revenue continues to grow, and has actually overcome their Mac sales for the first time.
“’Wearables, Home and Accessories’ revenue is larger than Mac revenue for the first time, Apple revealed in a blowout earnings report on Tuesday,” CNBC reported. “Apple’s catch-all category, which includes AirPods and Apple Watch among a bundle of other items such as accessories sold at Apple stores, surged to $10 billion in revenue in the quarter that ended in December. That’s more than the $7.1 billion Apple generated from selling Mac computers.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook even went on to say that demand was so high for their wearables over the holidays that they weren’t able to match it with some models.
It’s fairly clear now that the wearables segment is no longer an afterthought, but a major component of sales for many tech companies.
The wearables market has seen its fair share of competition over the years, as we see a global market dominated by Fitbit lose market share to new entrant Apple Watch and eventually other emerging rivals like Xiaomi and Fossil.
Now, what’s next?
Time to innovate and evolve
With smart watches and fitness-based wearables the common standard in the market now, some tech companies are trying to push the envelope with new features and implementations.
After all, the smart wearable market was valued at 216.18 million units in 2019, and is expected to reach 614.31 million units by 2025, at a CAGR of 19.1% in the period forecasted from 2020 to 2025, according to Mordor Intelligence.
Today, some companies, like Samsung, Apple and Fitbit, continue to focus their efforts on honing the fitness dimensions of wearable tech, optimizing health features like sleep cycles, steps walked, heart rate and more, with a greater emphasis on personalization.
Others are focusing more on the luxury potential of wearables, ditching the bland aluminum and plastic looks for something more chic. These include devices like Withings smartwatch, which actually is a hybrid wearable with the mechanical components of a regular watch merged with the tech of a smart watch.
Some, like Bellabeat, are ditching the watch mould, opting for something different entirely. Their Leaf device, which they refer to as smart jewelry, is an all-in-one pendant, broach, and bracelet.
Ōuraring and Motiv Ring are also offering something different. Their devices are essentially stylish smart rings that are less conspicuous than a smart watch while providing most of the same features.
“Rather than just being an activity tracker, Ōura gives the wearer a personal activity goal that calibrates daily based on your own individual recovery status and readiness to perform,” Interesting Engineering writes. “It even keeps track of your sedentary time, which means a pleasant notification when it's time to get up, move your body, and get some good exercise.”
Cyclers also have a smart wearable to be excited about: smart helmets!
“This Bluetooth-enabled helmet allows cyclers to listen to music, take calls and navigate with GPS through bone conduction audio,” CNET explains.
Bone conduction is perhaps its most striking feature, eliminating the need for plugging in headphones during a ride. It also offers all the other features you’d expect from a health app, like distance travelled, calories burned, etc.
But why settle for a passive tool when you can own a wearable that actively alters your physical wellbeing?
Developed by physicians and neuroscientists, Apollo is a wearable wellness device that uses gentle vibrations to help the body respond to stress. Apollo’s scientifically proven technology improves heart rate variability (HRV), and helps you attain a calmer, more balanced state of mind. The device launched last month.
Today, some companies like Athos are taking the term wearable to a whole new level. Catering to athletes, Athos created special shorts, leggings and tops with in-built electromyography (EMG) and motion-tracking sensors that map out your muscles’ every twitch and move. It can tell you things like how hard your muscles are working, which leg is stronger, and much more, and is a true breakthrough in the field of wearables.