Trends and History of Wearable Technology
Wearable technology isn’t just trendy and cutting-edge; it is changing the way we interact with ourselves, others, and the world around us. With so many comfortable, stylish options flooding the marketplace, it’s easier than ever to incorporate high-tech tools into our daily lives–like fitness trackers, smart watches, and even smart fabrics! And with the growing popularity of wearables, chances are that you know at least one person who uses these stylish (and smart) accessories regularly. But where did the concept of wearables come from, and how big is the wearable technology market projected to grow? We’ve uncovered the fascinating history of wearable tech, along with trends and innovations that could change our lives for the better.
"Even fashion moguls like Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch are getting in on this trend, creating products that are beautiful as well as functional. It’s clear that the future of wearable tech will bring even more innovations in personal health and wellness, productivity, fashion, and fun."
Wearable Tech: Old News?
Wearables have been around far longer than most technology enthusiasts realize.
As early as the 17th century, Chinese abacus rings allowed wearers to perform mathematical tasks long before calculators were invented. Talk about problem-solving at your fingertips!
A far more recent iteration of this idea appeared in the 1970s: the Pulsar Calculator Watch. And as with many innovations, some wearables were developed for professional or military use before becoming available to civilians. In fact, the wristwatch was invented by a German artillery officer seeking a replacement for cumbersome pocket watches that required both hands to use!
Of course, these early examples were relatively simple compared to the technology we enjoy today. Many historians attribute the first true wearable computer to Edward O. Thorpe and Claude Shannon, mathematicians who invented a timing device that allowed them to cheat at roulette.
Concealed in a shoe, this sneaky device could predict where balls would land on a roulette table, improving the chance of winning by as much as 44%! Similar inventions followed, until, not surprisingly, casinos began prohibiting their use.
Other early wearable computers include digital hearing aids, invented in 1987. Unlike previous versions of hearing aids, these tiny computers could be programmed for each user’s needs and lifestyle. They could even self-adjust for different environments, like loud restaurants, as well as eliminate background noise.
In recent years, the wearable market has developed with mind-blowing speed.
The Garmin Forerunner, one of the first performance-tracking sports watches, came on the scene in 2003 and was followed by popular devices such as the Nike+iPod Fitness Tracking Device, Fitbit, and Jawbone.
The first smart watch, Pebble, was released in 2012, followed by the much-hyped Apple Watch in 2014.
Today’s newest wearable technology devices may serve different functions, from personal health monitoring to text alerts, but it is easy to see how early wearables evolved into the life-enhancing devices we enjoy today.
"By 2018, the majority of healthcare organisations worldwide are projected to invest in wearables, remote healthcare monitoring, and consumer-facing apps."
What are the benefits of wearable technology?
Let’s face it: some early adopters of cool wearable tech sought the status that comes with being the first to own devices like smart watches and Google Glass. But the potential benefits of wearables go beyond style and status. In fact, wearable technology may be on the cusp of transforming health care. Already, over 88% of physicians encourage patients to monitor their health stats at home, and wearable technology such as fitness and sleep trackers can do just that. By 2018, the majority of healthcare organizations worldwide are projected to invest in wearables, remote healthcare monitoring, and consumer-facing apps. Wearables have the potential to even contribute to lower hospital care costs and more affordable health insurance!
And that’s not all. Wearable technology has already proven its usefulness in the workplace, with employees reporting an 8.5% increase in productivity when they are allowed to use wearable devices on the job. With the growing prevalence of virtual workers, these tools could help to transform companies’ efficiency and connectedness even when employees are working remotely.
Other new or developing products include apparel that could help to alleviate pain or bad posture, smart clothing and jewellery that monitor health stats, self-heating gloves and insoles, wearable monitors for babies and kids, smart helmets for soldiers, and many other devices.
"By 2018, the wearable technology market in the U.S. is projected to reach $12.6 billion. Today, fitness tracking wearables alone are a $700 million industry"
So how big is the wearable technology market?
Wearables may seem like the next new technology frontier. But how popular are they, and just how much will this market expand? Currently, one out of every five Americans owns some kind of wearable tech, and about 15% use their devices on a daily basis. These relatively early adopters may soon be joined by over 40% of US consumers, the percentage of buyers interested in buying a smart watch some time in the future. And out of the 52% of people who claim to be aware of wearable tech, 1 out of 3 said they were likely to purchase a device at some point down the road. It’s little surprise that wearable tech has become a multi-billion-dollar industry in recent years. By 2018, the wearable technology market in the U.S. is projected to reach $12.6 billion. Today, fitness tracking wearables alone are a $700 million industry.
So what does the typical wearable technology user look like?
When it comes to smart watches, most owners(68%) were between 18 and 34 years old, with males in the majority.
Lower-income buyers (earning $45k or less per year) were much more likely to own smart watches than consumers in other income brackets.
When it comes to fitness trackers such as Fitbit and FuelBand by Nike, on the other hand, female users were slightly more prevalent.
Fitness tracker users also skewed slightly older, with the majority of owners (36%) in the 35-54 age group. Finally, the overwhelming majority of fitness tracker users (40%) had incomes of $100k per year or more!
Fitness tracker users also skewed slightly older, with the majority of owners (36%) in the 35-54 age group.
Finally, the overwhelming majority of fitness tracker users (40%) had incomes of $100k per year or more!
One small hitch is that some users (about 1/3 of Americans) stop using their wearable devices after six months of purchase. Some experts suggest that this is because the market is still young in terms of consumer interest. As we discover new ways of streamlining technology tools and incorporating wearables more seamlessly into our everyday lives, consumer usage habits may evolve. Whether or not today’s innovations are here to stay, they are sure to have an impact on the future of personal technology. And who knows what exciting new wearables are waiting around the bend!