Is a pacemaker a wearable? I've asked several people that question as an icebreaker to get their opinions on wearable devices.
I think that wearables will be so popular in our future that we'll stop even talking about them as wearables. Then again, I don't recall people talking about wearables when electronic watches were common either, and aren't they wearable electronics?
Talking to people at different conferences, I've found that they often think of the wearable electronics of the future as stand-alone devices that carry out a function all on their own. I call this approach the "appliance" approach. Each unit can perform its task without the aid of another device. A smartphone is a perfect example of this. If you're a runner, you may have used the GPS module in your phone to track a jog and spit out important information about it. Another device that goes the "appliance" route is Google Glass. It doesn't require another piece of hardware to function.
Google Glass with optional sunglass attachment.
The other approach I see to wearables is the "accessory." The accessory is something that simply collects or displays data and communicates to another device for processing. A decent example of the "accessory" approach is the Fitbit Flex
. While it does have a simple display on it, it requires a connection to a smartphone for most of the data to be used.
The Fitbit Flex.
While I agree that there will be a market for appliances, I suspect we'll see a few companies dominate this field -- most likely the existing big players in smartphones. You'll carry around your "box," just like you carry your "phone" right now. However, as many of us are eager to point out, maybe we can stop calling it a phone one day since that has become only a tiny fraction of what these devices do.
If you want to find the big wearable market of the future, look to accessories. Right now phone accessories are quite plentiful. You can buy cases, batteries, headphones, screen protectors, etc. The market is already massive. However, as we develop smaller and cheaper technology for constructing more intelligent accessories, this market will really blossom. Imagine if you could pick up a glucose meter, blood pressure sensor, and haptic notification system for your smartphone for similar prices to what we see in current accessories. You could upgrade each piece individually, and build up the accessory collection that suits your specific needs. Your body ends up covered in inexpensive sensors, displays, even aesthetic accents that all connect to the computing box of your choice. It will be like creating a tiny Internet of Things on your body.
If I had money to wager on the biggest area of growth in relation to wearables, I'd be putting it on intelligent accessories. Oh, and no, I don't consider a pacemaker a wearable since you can't take it off. I don't know if that is an official defining factor of wearables, but that is the way I see it. How about you?
— Caleb Kraft, Chief Community Editor, EE Times