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  1. Hardware
May 3, 2015updated 22 Sep 2016 11:48am

How can wearables become a profitable market?

Size does matter, battery life is important and simplicity is key.

By Joao Lima

The UK market is slowly embracing wearable technology, but full-scale adoption is still a mirage.

Consumers are silently waiting for a device that ticks different boxes including comfort, performance and above all, battery life. Hence Asus’ announcement of a smartwatch with a ten day battery life time trending on social media for weeks.

Most wearables today have an energy supply that will power the device from around nine to 48 hours, making consumers reluctant about buying, for instance, a smartwatch that needs to be charged everyday (on top of their smartphone).

According to the YouGov, however, wearable device penetration will more than double in 2015 from 6% last year to 13%. By Christmas, 6.1 million people are expected to own a wearable device in the UK alone.

Russell Feldman, Director of Digital, Media and Technology at YouGov said: "Wearable devices have been talked about as "the next big thing" in tech for a while now.

"Our figures suggest that 2015 is the time when the devices finally start to gain traction amongst a wider consumer audience.

"Crucial to this is the shift in the balance of the category from fitness bands to smart watches over the coming months. The Christmas period will mark the moment category finally moves the niche to the mainstream."

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Finally a breakthrough

Even though wearables are yet to seriously impact the consumer market, developers are already looking at the next stage of design.

Invisible wearables, or disappearables, are set to fuel the growth of this technology.

Forecasters predict that by 2020 the wearable technology market as a whole will be worth $80 billion worldwide.

However, Juniper Research warns that this value is only achievable by making the connected gadgets virtually indistinguishable from their disconnected peers.

Smart skin technology, like the one developed by MC10 with its solution Biostamp, are likely to be the next big thing for portable smart technology.

The Biostamp is a small seamless layer, the size and thickness of a stamp, that connects to the users phone and regularly monitors its health and shares it with doctors.

The company said that monitoring devices enable doctors to treat or alert patients remotely, and allow family members to check on each other.

Already out there

The first switch in consumer trends within smaller wearable gadgets will be what has been called hearables.

They are small devices, geared with tiny sensors and chips that will have multiple functions and benefits to the user, from measuring body temperature level, to taking headsets to another level.

Nick Hunn, CTO at Wifore Consulting said that hearable technology alone will be a $5 billion market by 2018.

Consultant Nick Hunn predicted the technology to reach $15 billion in revenues by the end of this decade.

The smaller the technology, the more practical it will be for consumers to put it on and use it. Companies like Philips, Motorola, Haier and Parrot are already investing in reducing the power demand and size of sensors.

These solutions could be deployed into almost everything consumers use and in humans as well.

Smart contact lenses – like the ones Google has started to develop this year – could give users new experiences with virtual reality and real time information of what’s surrounding them.

On top of that, the device could measure glucose levels for diabetes patients and give an update to the user almost every minute.

Andrew Sheehy of Generator Research added that the heat of a human eyeball could power a 5 milliwatt transmitter, enough to power a connection from a smart contact lens to a smartphone or other controlling device.

On the whole, wearables are here to stay, and with companies like Samsung and Apple now openly battling each other, the industry will see an escalation in demand and offer.

Others like Google, MC10 and the Dash have entered the hearables and even disappearables markets aiming for the first solutions to be commercialised in the next few years.

The key for the wearables market is to make the devices more simple, smaller and top up their performance to give more than experiences – music, virtual reality, etc – and enable users to get their health on track with several health measurements by the minute.

Nikolaj Hviid, CEO at the Dash said: "In five years, when we look back, everything we see [now] will absolutely be classified as toys, as the first very basic steps of getting this right."

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