Wearables TechCon 2016: The Key Takeaways

We attended the WearablesTechCon 2016 convention in San Jose.  The event was enlightening because of the diverse background of attendees including HW & electronics OEMs, app developers & programmers, design architects, battery/power OEMs, chip vendors, security, healthcare providers, vendors with any tie to AR/VR, test & certification companies, waterproofing solutions, and many, many more.

It has been widely debated how successful the “wearables” space (choose your definition here, I am using the most general possible) has been.  Is it over-hyped?  Our stance remains that this is a marathon and not a sprint.  It is clear that better, stand-alone devices are needed.  Even current market leaders such as Garmin & FitBit have recently admitted that new, improved sensors that have more customer utility are needed for the space to continue to evolve.  However, it is easy to overlook the opportunity and the growth we have attained so quickly.  In just a few, short years the market has gobbled up over 150m fitness bands and 50m smartwatches.  On the smartwatches side, this is over $5b in revenue–not too shabby for devices which are, admittedly, still compromised.

We are more optimistic after seeing all the work being done in all phases of the space.

Here are our key takeaways from the event:

  • Smartwatches have sold millions, but need to be standalone devices
    • A watch or wearable needing to be paired to a smartphone for use relegates this to a costly ‘notifications’ device
    • More stand-alone applications are needed or it is simpler to carry a phone
    • The industry needs to overcome power problems prior to any new use cases seeing the light of day
    • With no standards in place and such a fragmented ecosystem, innovation has been stunted; to take advantage of the growing number of sensors there needs to be some standardization for standalone ‘wearables’ to better tap into them
    • There will be more segmentation & an acceleration of products coming out over the next 12 months; one-size-fits-all devices are not working; this will bring more interest and more cost erosion to the space
    • Improvements on SW platforms for smarter on-device computing is being developed and chip vendors are launching engines for the unique, wearables needs
  • Cellular connectivity is needed
    • Data processing, app firmware, new sensors not even thought of today need access to the cloud not just in home but on the go
    • To bring in contextual awareness of what is around me (and, once again, not just when I am in reach of usable wifi)
  • Voice recognition
    • Bringing more processing onto the wearable device will help bring utility to wearables
    • Overcoming power and connectivity hurdles are key, but this in only a matter of time
  • Power management improvements are coming
    • New embedded flash foundry process
    • Better low power memory architecture
    • Low power MCUs; Sensor algorithms optimizing MCU run-time while maintaining accuracy
    • Bluetooth Low Energy will bring in new use cases not possible today because of the ultra-low power wireless connection possibilities
    • For ease-of-use, wireless charging is needed
  • Security
    • Today it is the wild west
    • The rush to market has left gaping holes in security
    • Bio-confirmation in many new ways will eventually help solve
  • New Unique Applications & Form Factors
    • US military, universities, biotech, hardware OEMs, chip OEMs are combining research to bring in unique, new applications – these are still in concepting phase, but it is where the excitement lies
    • Flexible sensors, flexible substrates which are literally ‘stretchable’ will bring a new wave of wearables
    • Thin IC’s 50 microns and below are being developed
    • New wave of wireless charging will be used to power, while in use
    • Encapsulating to make sensors waterproof, digestible
    • Incorporating big data, which opens the door to all kinds of preventative use cases
    • Human monitoring—tracking tension, strain, and inner health
    • Most of these use cases have a big hurdle – FDA approval

Companies to watch:

Sensory (www.sensory.com): Audio & speech recognition technologies

Very interesting in the wearables space because of its utility overcoming small displays and its low power needs.  Its ‘always-listening voice control’ mode listens for voice triggers before activating the remaining audio chain of the device.  This allows longer switched off power modes until more power-intensive speech processing is needed.

Firstbeat (www.firstbeat.com): Heartbeat analytics

Analyses heart rate data to better manage stress, sleep, and optimal exercise.  Design wins include Garmin, Samsung, Suunto, Sony, Pear Sports, PulseOn and Bosch.

Nanovivo (www.nanovivomd.com): Real-time non-invasive blood chemistry monitoring

Applications include hydration tracking, body fat monitoring, micronutrient analysis.  Easy monitoring of personal wellness, nutrition analysis, and overall health tracking.

Energous (www.energous.com): Wire-free charging ecosystem

A radio frequency system which delivers a safe, wire-free charging energy up to 15 feet.  Great promise for wearables which can be charged while being worn and in-use.

Qualcomm: (www.qualcomm.com):  Next gen wearable processors

Well-known, of course, but highlighting the Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor which is optimized for wearables.  Hundreds of design wins and new products rolling out in 2H16 and 2017.

ARGOtext: (www.argotext.com): Brings a qwerty keyboard to independent smartwatches

The company licenses the touch sensors on the side housing of a smartwatch, which enables a full virtual qwerty keyboard.


wearables nonivo md 2016: The Key Takeaways


Within the wearables space, the low hanging fruit remains fitness trackers and a variety of smartphones (connected, non-connected, GPS-enabled) in market.  Functionality is slowly increasing as cost and device footprints are decreasing.  The next hurdle will be creating next generation sensors and connectivity that will provide users both utility and value.  There appears plenty in the pipeline.  It is simply a matter of time of solving some of the key restraints such as power management, cellular connectivity, and for some applications, FDA approval.  Expect incumbents to be pressured by new entrants launching a multitude of new models through 2017.  A new wave of optimized engines in 2018 and beyond will begin to really drive new stand-alone applications–then, things will begin to get more interesting.