The impending explosion of the wearable computing market is one of the most interesting and highly anticipated developments taking place in the high-tech industry. According to a new study, Wearable Computing: Technologies, Applications and Global Markets, the $3 billion wearable consumer market is intrinsically linked with the $240+ billion smartphone market. The key market driver for wearable computing is the soaring global popularity of smartphones from manufacturers including Apple, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, HTC, Blackberry, Nokia and Microsoft.
The burgeoning field of wearable technology is hitting the mainstream and one of the highlights of high-tech wearable devices is that they are getting smaller, faster, cheaper, and more powerful with every new product. The computing power of an Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer or ENIAC a decade ago can now be easily fitted inside a chip in a musical greeting card. Similarly, the smartphones today are more powerful than the PCs used, say, five years ago. Now, all the capabilities of a smartphone like making calls, taking pictures, connecting to the internet, video chats, and so on, are being condensed into smartwatches—practically everything a phone or a tablet can do.
If the growing trend in the wearable computing industry is to be believed, the time may soon come when phones and tablets are a thing of the past. Google Glass is a perfect example. The product is still under development, but if everything goes as planned, consumers will soon have no need for their standard smartphone. Google Glass will be able to easily respond to verbal commands, augmented by the occasional manual interaction via controls located directly on the frame. There has even been talk about eventually including a laser-projected virtual keyboard for those times when voice just isn’t enough. With the ability to access countless sources of information in seconds and then relay them to a miniature screen situated in the upper corner of the wearer’s vision field, Google Glass makes 4G internet connectivity features seem archaic.
Motorola recently entered the ring with its Moto 360 smartwatch, which is primarily voice operated and can easily display messages and reminders on command. The result is a small, stylish accessory that serves as an assistant, calendar, and phone all at once and completely replaces the smartphone.
However, Apple’s stated entry into the smartwatch arena last week with a device that won’t go on sale until early 2015 raises questions: Can the company work its magic as it has in the past and convince people that they really need a smartwatch —or will this time be different? Referring to its much awaited product of the year, iWatch, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a press release, “Apple introduced the world to several category-defining products, the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. And once again Apple is poised to captivate the world with a revolutionary product that can enrich people’s lives. It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made.”
In fact, the “wearable category” covers almost everything from Fitbit’s $99 Flex fitness tracker and Nike’s $99 Fuelband fitness monitors to Samsung’s $199 Galaxy Gear smartwatch. In January 2014, Washington-based Innovega revealed its latest effort in introducing a wearable computer in the form of contact lenses at the CES trade show held in Las Vegas, USA—iOptik. Synchronizing its operations with the human eye, the iOptik uses its lenses to project an image of apps and information through the wearer’s pupil and onto the back of the retina. The lenses superimpose one upon the other to produce an image overlaid with information. The product is yet to be given approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA); however, the company plans to schedule further operations later this year or early next year.
Wearable computing concept is evolving to be even more personal, and not just for the benefit of the wearer. Expectant mothers, in the near future, will wear electronic “tattoos”—smartsensing stickers that will monitor fetal heart rate and brain waves, detect early signs of labor, and even notify the doctor directly when it’s time to go to the hospital.
Wearable computing devices have potential benefits for any situation where information or communication is desired, and the use of a hands-free interface is considered beneficial or essential. In addition to consumer products, many industry-specific applications in markets such as defense, healthcare, manufacturing and mining are also emerging.
The growth of the consumer market for wearables largely depends on how rapidly existing smartphone users will adopt wearable accessories and alternative devices. With new and improved innovation hitting the global market every day, only time will reveal whether wearables will ultimately replace smartphone technology in many consumer environments.
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