Taking the Pulse at the Wearable Technology Show 2016

Pulse trace. Image courtesy Pixabay.

Pulse trace. Image courtesy Pixabay.

Now in its third year, the Wearable Technology Show which was held in London last week is a good place to take the pulse of the wearables market and to try and understand where it is going. Taking the pulse also features in Wearable Consultants "Best in Show" award. 

It was my second year of attending and my impression was that it was quite a bit busier than last year which was later confirmed by the organisers - the number of visitors was up 26%. Analyst numbers also continue to be positive for the wearables market. An interesting presentation from IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo showed results from a consumer survey that over 70% believe that "wearable technology is exciting" and that "wearables are the next big thing in technology". IDC predict that the number of wearable devices will grow from 80 million in 2015 to 237 million devices in 2020. Over a quarter of these devices are expected to live on our wrists in the form of smart watches. This is clearly a growing market and consumers are expecting big things.

Smart textiles is an area of the wearables market that is rich with possibilities but where there is an ongoing struggle to unite technology with fashion. In a lively textiles panel session, the Head of the Fashion Innvovation AgencyMatthew Drinkwater pointedly challenged the audience to identify textile based wearables that have been manufactured in volume and are in our shops and stores. The silence was deafening. He went on to say that the primary interest of fashion designers concerns the aesthetics of clothing rather than adding functionality such as sensors. The implication is that for a catwalk hit, wearable technology must add to the beauty of clothing. 

Sailing away from the glamour of the catwalk and out to the deep blue sea, Blaine Tookey, technology principal with BP identified requirements for wearables in the oil industry which included the possibility of incorporating sensors into wearables. Here the route to a compelling value proposition for smart textiles is much clearer.

It was nice to bump into my former FlexEnable colleague Vincent Barlier at the show sporting a demo of an all plastic display around his wrist. I remain convinced that flexible plastic displays are one of the keys to breakthrough wearable form factors and significantly added value. I also had an informative chat with Nick Hunn about the relative merits of IOT wireless approaches which will be key in uniting wearables with IOT. There is an excellent post about this on Nick's site.

For me the hottest sector in wearables is currently health. Hands up who wants to live longer? I was first in line to get my ticker checked over using Alivecor's brand new Kardia iPhone accessory. The Kardia clips to the back of an iPhone and communicates with the iPhone's microphone using Ultrasound! Apparently this takes significantly less energy than Bluetooth. Alivecor's Sales Director Michael Morgan-Curran showed me that by simply touching two electrodes on the Kardia it captures an FDA approved medical grade ECG and then analyses your data for any anomalies. Thankfully mine was fine. Although Kardia isn't (yet) a wearable, it wins Wearable Consultants Best in Show award. To your good health.   

Mark Catchpole              First published on 24th March 2016         All rights reserved

Mark is a wearable technology consultant with Wearable Consultants based in Cambridge, UK. Please get in touch via mark@wearableconsultants.com