Have you noticed how people are constantly looking down these days? Not just looking down at phones, but also at fitness trackers and shiny, new smartwatches. Wearables have taken the Fintech world over and it seems wearable technology is making its way to more and more bodies. The original fitness tracker, Fitbit, arrived in 2009 without much expectation but soon gained popularity by providing insights into one’s step count, calories burned, and sleeping patterns. Fitbit capitalized on the trend towards holistic health management. As more individuals concerned themselves with their health as a whole, we started focusing on our activity levels, nutrition, and sleep.
With a sleek and simple design, Fitbit appealed to many. Wearables became an accessory and its perfect location on the wrist helped it blend with our everyday look. The innovation did not stop there, as we soon started observing the increased the demand for accessible personal health insights. In the mid-2010s we saw the creation of the smartwatch. Samsung and Apple, two of the world’s largest tech companies produced their own versions that set the new generation of wearables. Now, you had all the perks of your phone and computer on your wrist. Making phone calls, checking your calendar, and getting social media notifications were easier than ever. The most remarkable features were the health and wellness resources on the tip of your fingers. Your wrist became a physician’s office where you could check your blood pressure, heart rate, as well as the traditional features offered with Fitbits.
While the market for wearables is massive, there is evidence the wristband and smartwatch segment is hitting a plateau. Increased demand, lower prices, and the proliferation of devices will grow the wearable market 305 million units in 2019 shipped to roughly 490 million by 2023 at a CAGR of 22.4%. However, Fitbit declined 26.1% during the 1st quarter of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and competition from Samsung and Apple have built a more competitive landscape and lowered prices. Samsung and Apple recorded steady growth for their watches and fitness trackers but the main source of revenue came from earwear which account for half the overall market. Earwear is expected to grow 41.3% by 2023 while smartwatches will only grow at 16.4% and wristbands will grow much slower at 6.7% according to the market research firm IDC. Additionally, total revenue for the wearable market is expected to see negative growth at -0.2% between 2020 to 2024 in the US.
Clearly the wearable market must continue to innovate and address slow growth concerns. Fitbit has expanded their services to include health coaching and virtual care as part of their digital health services. In 2019, the US National Institutes of Health announced a digital health initiative with Fitbit where they will have access to users’ data to evaluate the link between health indicators and health outcomes. This opens up a door for national institutions to collaborate with healthtech companies to address health inequalities and influence policy decisions. Additionally, Google recently purchased Fitbit for $2.1 billion to expand its presence in the wearable industry and contribute to health data gathering. Google believes it can be the standard of wearable devices and help develop the best technology for managing one's health through extensive data collection and actionable insights. Rumors are circulating Google will release a Google Pixel watch as an introduction into the market. As the flagship phone for the company, a smartwatch carrying the brand of such a popular device would disrupt the market.
Smart eyewear and clothing may be the next go to fitness accessory but early results have been mixed. While companies like Google and Microsoft have dipped their hands in the eyewear market, they have not achieved much success. There hasn’t been a clear purpose for smart eyewear, some people see it as entertainment or education. The company VSP Global in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing developed an eyewear, Level, which has had more success and sees itself as the eyewear version of Fitbit. Their eyeglasses capture data such as your step count and distance traveled and record it on its accompanying app. This product relies on its functionality for those who regularly wear glasses and would value the benefits of tracking various health data.
Smart clothing is still trying to find its place. Canadian company, Hexoskin, sells clothing that monitors heart and breathing rate, breathing levels, general activity data and sleep quality which are all gathered in its own app.
Written by Tariq Ahmed
University of College London | 2019
MSc Global Health & Development