The global market for clothing and accessories with embedded health-monitoring gadgets such as heart rate monitors and running speed sensors is expected to grow to 170 million devices by 2017, according to a new market study by GigaOM Pro.
Advances in materials, battery power, augmented-reality systems and computer chips are expanding the products' functionality, but the entry of technology giants Google, Microsoft and Apple also is playing a major role in an anticipated industry growth rate that ABI Research pegs at 41 percent per year.
The report even raised the possibility of wearable health IT replacing smartphones over the next decade. Wearables already can do much of what a smartphone can do, analyst and report author Jody Ranck writes.
The report defines wearables as "computing devices that are always on, always accessible and easily worn on the body, [typically with] real-time information access, data-input capabilities, local storage and some form of collaborative-communications ability."
The list of possible wearables sounds a bit James Bond-y: watches, glasses, smart fabrics, contact lenses, small screens, rings and bracelets, hearing aid-like devices called "hearware," smart badges, wrist computers and even smart skin tattoos.
Health and wellness applications likely will lead the way because of already-popular fitness and home health monitoring technologies, according to the report. The next phase: fashionable wearables that don't look like medical devices. Potential challenges in the health wearables market include insurance reimbursement policies for mobile health, the report notes.
Citing a Forrester Research report, the analysis also notes that:
- Google may have a platform advantage, but Microsoft is a major player, with a new patented wearable technology that can control devices including smartphones and Xbox games.
- Apple "risks falling behind" unless it expands beyond watches and lightweight wearables.
- A "different cast of characters" might dominate the health wearables market, combining "big-data analytics with wearables and a broader ecosystem of platforms that dominate across the fitness app, personal-health-record and self-tracking spaces."
The growing senior population is fueling some of the growth in home health monitoring, with the number of devices expected to grow to 36 million in 2017, up from less than 3 million in 2011, ABI Research reports. The home-monitoring share of the wearable wireless device market will increase to 22 percent from 12 percent over the same time period, the researchers said.