Wearables – the next big thing

Whether on the wrist, in the sole of a shoe, or as smart glasses on someone’s nose – wearables really are “the next big thing” according to many market experts.

Wearables are miniature electronic devices worn on – or even in – the body. They are built into accessory articles, medical aids or clothing, and perform one or more smart functions. These mini-computers are also normally equipped with interfaces to communicate directly over the Internet, or they use a smartphone to exchange data.

Fitness tracking currently on trend

The best-known examples are wrist-worn fitness-tracking bracelets. According to a survey on the use of wearables among owners of smart watches and the like conducted by market researcher Fittkau & Maaß Consulting on behalf of the Internet World Messe trade fair organisation, fitness tracking is currently very much on trend: more than half those surveyed are using a device to measure and evaluate their health and fitness data. Saskia Müller, Internet World Messe’s Head of Congresses & Trade Fairs, explains: “Wearables are predicted to see a boom similar to that in smartphones in recent times, and our survey certainly confirms that early adopters are already committing to them.”

From the digital watch to the smart watch

Wearable electronics have been around almost as long as personal computers. It was some 30 years ago that manufacturers such as Casio first launched watches with digital displays and built-in calculators onto the market. However, the wrist-worn electronic technology back then was still light-years away from the age of global connectivity. Today’s wearables are able to communicate with smartphones, connect to the Cloud or link to machines, as well as monitoring heart rates and enabling users to explore virtual worlds.

Major potential in the business sector

Smart devices have long since also entered the business world. Their potential applications are many and varied, extending from production and logistics, through health management and surgery to lecture theatres. Experts like Werner Ballhaus, Partner and Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms at PricewaterhouseCoopers, see major potential for businesses in connected electronics such as smart glasses and watches: “Smart watches could be used to cut employees’ workloads in factories and enhance their safety. Hospitals could use them for real-time communication between doctors and nurses; and airports and hotels could use them as check-in devices. Those applications are still in their early days, but we will see them spread rapidly in the years ahead.”
Many people see great benefits from the mini-assistants in healthcare especially: measuring pulse, counting steps and monitoring calorie consumption. However, the technology will go much further still. Shirts with built-in electrodes that measure the heart rate. Socks that ensure feet are kept in the right position. “Electronic fashion” has not yet become established on the German market, but that is going to change. Timm Lutter from the German digital association Bitkom comments: “Connected functional clothing is the next logical step in wearables development. Ever smaller and more powerful sensors will fit ever more easily and efficiently into fabrics.”

Rapid developments on a dynamic market

A wealth of new wearables will be hitting the market over the coming years. Big technology companies are pushing forward with major capital investment – but it’s not only Google and co. who will be increasingly focusing on this market. Entirely new opportunities are also opening up for companies beyond the tech sector. Innovative new businesses have seen their chance to grab a slice of the dynamic market, resulting in lots of new start-ups in the wearables sector. All this is likely to generate major competitive pressures among a wide variety of different players, leading to rapid product development and so acting as a powerful driver of the Internet of Things.

On the way to the Internet of Things

Connectivity with external sensors is a particularly promising area. The latest-generation smart watches provide a clue of what is to come: they can be used to unlock the car door, for example, or to adjust the temperature in the living room before the owner gets home. With such applications, wearables are becoming an innovative link between people and the Internet of Things. “Wearables are the logical advance on the smartphone and tablet,” Lutter asserts. “They link the human body to the Internet of Things, making it an even more practical tool for everyday living.”

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