Wearable technology market to hit $6B by 2016

The global market for wearable technology is expected to triple to $6 billion by 2016--and that's a conservative estimate, says market research firm IMS Research.

A big chunk of that market, which included the sale of 14 million wearable devices in 2011, comprises a limited number of products in the healthcare, medical, fitness and wellness market, according to an announcement about the report, "World Market for Wearable Technology - A Quantitative Market Assessment - 2012."

IMS estimates device sales will grow to anywhere between 39 million and 171 million by 2016, senior analyst Theo Ahadome says in an interview with FierceMobileHealthcare.

Continuous glucose monitors and fitness and heart-rate monitors dominate the market, IMS says in the report, a trend that is expected to continue. The report cites "increasing demand for actionable, real-time data in a range of applications" as the reason for the anticipated market growth, particularly in the health IT market.

In a report released last week, GigaOM Pro projected that the global market for health wearables should grow to 170 million devices by 2017. The range of wearable technology products includes watches, shirts and other items of clothing with monitors and other technology integrated into the design.

For example, the New York College of Health Professions has developed a line of clothing and accessories it says improves athletic performance by applying pressure to different points on the body. The patented MyChi line also can minimize motion sickness and help people stop smoking and lose weight, the alternative-treatment group says in a recent announcement.

The product line includes clothing, sweat bands and other sports gear with acupressure buttons aligned with the body's acupressure points. Some wearables have the buttons sewn in, while other pressure buttons are removable or applied through adhesive strips, the group says.

The IMS report projects growth in product areas including sleep sensors, smart watches and glasses, and to a lesser degree industrial uses and military head-up displays and hand-worn terminals.

Continuous glucose monitors for use by diabetics are projected to remain the largest segment of the healthcare and medical market sector, Ahadome says in the interview. Activity monitors, which measure performance indicators such as heartbeat and respiration, should represent two-thirds of the fitness and wellness sector.

Another market segment with good growth potential is automated drug delivery, including delivery devices integrated with continuous glucose meters, as well as devices to dispense pain medication and even chemotherapy, Ahadome says. The biggest potential barriers to market growth are limited technology and the need for FDA approval, he adds.

In the announcement, Ahadome notes the conservative $6 billion market estimate assumes adoption will be limited by technology, poor user compliance and a failure of wearable technology to exceed the capabilities of nonwearable technology.

More robust market estimates assume "an increasingly self-aware consumer seeks more and more data on their health and fitness, leading to even more rapid expansion in the market for wearable technology," he says.

To learn more:
- see the IMS announcement (report available through purchase)
- read the MyChi announcement