Healthcare the largest opportunity in wearables market

Wearable technology will be a $24.2-billion market in 2015, but three-quarters of that will be already-mature technologies such as electronic wristwatches, blood glucose test strips, fitness trackers, etc., predicts IDTechEx Research.

Medical and healthcare applications are already the single largest sector in the wearables market by revenue, according to the research firm’s report Wearable Technology 2015-2025: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts. Emerging new components like stretchable electronics and thin-film batteries offer opportunities to do much of the testing and monitoring that would traditionally been done in a hospital in a wearable environment. The challenge is to achieve the same reliability and accuracy in a device that remains affordable.

The wearable market for healthcare technologies is similar to the market model for pharmaceuticals, according to IDTechEx. Any component with a significant health impact must undergo potentially years of testing and development to be approved by regulatory bodies, but with the potential of blockbuster sales upon approval.

Meanwhile, in the last five years, the market for unregulated devices like general fitness monitors has seen significant interest. They’re faster to get to market, but much more vulnerable to commoditization. Some fitness bands are made in China for less than $5, according to IDTechEx.

Even more prone to commoditization are infotainment applications of wearable technology. Hype in the infotainment market is driven by such well-known technologies as Google Glass and virtual reality headsets, but the bulk of the market—already at several billion dollars and growing at double-digit rates each year—is in mature technologies like headphones, from the most basic to those with advanced connectivity, sensors and interactive operation. The use cases for advanced wearable infotainment devices aren’t as clear as those for healthcare, and consumer uptake has been poor, according to the report.

While healthcare and infotainment applications of wearable technology are a logical evolution from exiting consumer electronic solutions, commercial and industrial uses represent a bigger change. Products—sensors, tracking systems, wearable cameras for quality control—are less vulnerable to commoditization than infotainment devices, and face lower barriers to entry than regulated medical devices, according to the report.

IDTechEx predicts significant growth in this market in the next two to five years.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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