IDTechEx Wearable Trends

This week, I’m attending a series of co-located conferences organized by IDTechEx. The exhibit hall and presentations cover wearables, printed electronics, the Internet of Things, energy harvesting and storage, and 3D printing. The result is a synergistic combination that defines the driving forces behind the grown in wearable Health Tech devices. I expect that I’ll be writing about many of the products and concepts on display and presented here for at least the rest of the week, perhaps even longer. It is that rich a setting, with news and innovation present at every turn.

It’s fitting to start where the conference started; with this morning’s keynote addresses. Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx, kicked things off with an overview of many of the various markets. He shared some of the familiar “hockey stick” growth forecasts for segments including energy harvesting and 3D printing, with rapidly accelerating growth predicted over the next five to 10 years. I was most interested, however, in his statements about wearable technology. He made a point that could serve as the theme for this whole conference. He talked about the fact that many technology products started as bulky and inconvenient devices. Miniaturization has helped these devices shrink in size while growing in capability; compare the average smartphone with the original IBM PC, for example. Yet we’re not at a stage where wearables are going to be widely adopted, even by enthusiasts. They are still intrusive and awkward to carry or use due to size or recharging requirements or lack of robust construction. For technology to become truly useful — especially wearables — these devices must “disappear” into our daily lives, in much the same way that thermostats keep our houses a comfortable temperature without requiring any thought or intervention. This is most important for wearable Health Tech devices.

The second keynote was presented by Chris Turkstra, Head of Product & Strategy at the Samsung IoT Innovation Lab. He drew attention to the massive drop in the cost of digital electronic sensors in recent years. The average selling price for sensors of all sorts has dropped to $.58, and many categories have seen prices drop by a factor of 10 or more. Part of this is driven by the huge demand — and thus competition — for sensors used in smartphones. Accelerometers now cost less than $.50 apiece; temperature and touch sensors cost even less. In a similar vein, we’ve seen battery technology evolve rapidly from the rigid cylinders and buttons to flexible batteries that can be incorporated in to wrist bands. And we’re beginning to see advances in displays to support curved and even flexible displays.

It is clear that we’re at an inflection point, where many developments are coming together at the same time. The net results is that change is going to happen quickly, much as it did in the early days of the personal computer when the falling price of digital processors and memory and other components made it possible to put a mainframe on your desk. Something similar is happening in the wearable Health Tech market, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of it.