Fitness and activity tracking have played leading roles in the world of wearables for years, enticing consumers and driving uptake. Users are tracking their step count, active minutes, heart rate, sleeping patterns and much more, with Futuresource Consulting’s figures showing an installed base of more than 780 million worldwide. However, the opportunity is intensifying. Wearables are undergoing a transformational shift.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of health, fitness and wellbeing. Buoyed by widespread lockdowns, enforced social distancing and the closure of gyms and leisure centers, digital health tracking became a rising priority, driving premium hardware features and associated services.
At the same time, the enabling technology is coming of age. Sensor accuracy is improving, ecosystems have been developed and finessed, and there are many incremental improvements being made to device capabilities. There’s been a groundswell of innovation since Apple successfully integrated an ECG monitor and fall detection algorithm in its Series 4 Watch back in 2018. Combined with the expertise of global CE brands, rapid scaling is a relatively undemanding task.
The next wave of wearable products will see further health innovation, including medical grade blood pressure measurement and non-invasive blood glucose tracking. These, alongside a range of additional features, are expanding the appeal of the category to a wider demographic. The use cases are numerous.
Across the globe, 1.13 billion people suffer with high blood pressure. There are one billion with respiratory disease. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes afflict nearly 850 million. Dementia affects 54 million. Three in five people living with dementia will wander at least once, with many doing so repeatedly. This can be life-threatening and stressful, and also costs emergency services around $16,000 per incident.
Compare these numbers to the current wearables installed base and the opportunity becomes clearly apparent, with CE vendors and dedicated health brands all vying for market position. Health and caregiving products from the likes of Theora Care, LifePlus, Omron and Navigil are creating a counterpoint to the CE giants, with Oura and Withings occupying the middle ground.
The ear is rapidly becoming the new health battleground. Beyond an improved listening experience, it lends itself to accurate monitoring of activity, stress, blood volume and oxygen saturation, as well as pulse rate. Additionally, the comparatively new field of digital hearing health bridges the gap between perfect hearing and severe hearing loss. Somewhere in the middle there’s an accelerating consumer awareness of the need to address issues relating to mild to moderate hearing loss.
In particular, Futuresource Consulting’s recent Audio Tech Lifestyles consumer survey shows that consumers are interested in conversation enhancement features in future earphones. With the industry on the threshold of over-the-counter hearing aid regulations, new opportunities are emerging for hearing aids and lifestyle headphone brands to achieve a foothold. OTC regulations will allow hearing aids to be sold without prescription, as an ordinary retail purchase and at a cheaper price point. In a field currently dominated by audiology practices and prescriptions, the CE opportunities are enormous.
Apple has already stepped into the space, with the introduction of the Live Listen feature in its headphones, and the conversation boost function in its Airpods Pro. Sonova recently acquired Sennheiser, with a view to leverage its capabilities in the hearing aids business, as well as Sennheiser’s reputation for audio quality. Furthermore, Bose recently launched hearing aids at $850, while GN Resound launched a new hearing aid under the Jabra brand.
From a wider wearables perspective, Apple is the clear market leader and continues to pull even further ahead. In health, it is focusing on developing an ecosystem that combines hardware with software and services, while its Fitness+ subscription service will tap into the digital fitness wave which has been accelerated by the pandemic.
Garmin’s and Polar’s sports and fitness expertise can be transferred into the health vertical, with Polar owning a huge amount of biometric-related IP, and Garmin having acquired Firstbeat. However, lack of ecosystem may inhibit health opportunities, but partnerships and mergers remain an option.
Google is leaning on Fitbit’s brand equity and vast expertise. With its Health and Health Plus subscription services, Fitbit is transforming from a hardware-only vendor into a true lifestyle brand. Wider WearOS and Android integration will also expand the ecosystem.
Yet there are still hurdles. Data privacy concerns continue to inform the agenda, as many feel uncomfortable about trusting CE brands with their intimate data. Sensor accuracy, though improving, still comes with a fairly wide margin of error, and FDA regulation also remains an obstacle. As brands move from a wellness positioning into healthcare, the rules of engagement become radically altered, but the opportunity remains.
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Futuresource Consulting is a market research and consulting company, providing its clients with expertise in Professional AV, Consumer Electronics, Education Technology, Content & Entertainment, Professional Broadcast and Automotive. Combining strong methodologies and unsurpassed data refinement with in-depth market knowledge and forecasting, Futuresource deliver the latest insights and technological developments to drive business decision-making.
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