Smart watches: the start of the wearable electronics revolution? The launch of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch has brought the concept of wearable electronics to the attention of consumers. But the wearables revolution is going to start with the advent of flexible electronics – something that is now on the horizon.
When Samsung announced the launch of its Galaxy Gear smart watch in September 2013, it marked a watershed for wearable electronic accessories. The hype for smart watches – devices that interact with the wearer’s smartphone, to display text messages or emails, among other features - had already been building in 2012. Media outlets spoke excitedly of devices like the Pebble watch, a wearable device with an e-reader-style display that was generated millions of dollars of funding via a crowdfunding website. It was only a matter of time before global consumer electronics firms like Apple and Samsung were linked with the development of wearable electronic accessories. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear interacts with the company’s smartphone and tablet products. The device is pitched as a complementary product: a convenient extension of the communication features found in our current range of consumer electronics. The convenience is in the Gear’s wearability – a text message or email can now be checked with a quick look at the wrist. A photo can be captured from the device’s in-built camera, rather than having to search for your smartphone and launching the camera app. Other firms are keen to capitalise on this apparent opportunity to make consumers’ lifestyles more convenient with a new range of wearable devices. Sony and Apple are among the other firms rumoured to be planning smart watch products. Other devices with e-paper or other monochrome displays are being launched too: Chinese firm Tomoon is launching a T-Fire smart watch in 2013, while E Ink will be supplying e-paper displays for the upcoming Sonostar smart watch.
But just how ‘wearable’ and ‘convenient’ is this generation of smart watches? Most of the products now coming to market are trying to offer smartphone-style quantities of information and notifications in a much more limited form factor. And, as the display for text messages, emails and other notifications cannot wrap fully around the wrist, what can actually be delivered by the smaller, rigid screens available is limited.
Current offerings are not giving a true picture of
the potential of this emerging market, and are
therefore not doing the term ‘wearable’ justice.
The market for truly wearable devices is much
bigger than these current smart watch
developments would suggest.
Plenty of activity is taking place, in areas such as
fitness and healthcare, which will clearly deliver
the convenience and wearability hinted at by the
emergence of smart watches.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear
This white paper seeks to outline the substantial
market opportunities that exist for truly wearable
technologies that can offer convenience, comfort,
and valuable, additional electronic features to
enhance consumers’ lifestyles.
Fundamental to this exciting age of wearable
electronics will be conformal, flexible electronic components that can be seamlessly integrated into wearable products. With these, developers will be able to create products that match up to consumers’ expectations of a wearable electronic device. Start-ups are creating much of the flexible electronics componentry – from flexible displays, to conformable sensors and batteries – and engineering expertise needed to make wearables practical. And their cooperation behind the scenes on commercial applications should see some truly wearable technologies come to market in the near future.
Smart watches provide an exciting glimpse of how consumers could wear electronics – but do not yet offer the wearability needed. Flexible electronics could change that Source: Wright Design for Plastic Logic
Wearable is a rather broad term, and can cover a number of different products that can all impact the electronics market. A wearable object is something that the user actively places on their body, without the need to hold or carry. While the word may conjure up images of clothes, there are many other wearable products that can be grouped together under the category.
Watches are perhaps the wearable technology that is currently in the forefront of most consumers’ minds. With smart watch launches and rumours, the technology has done well in highlighting the potential of wearable electronics, even if current offerings do not do the market justice.
Can a watch be smart?
Watches started out as a technology: first as a series of cogs and springs wound up to power the hands, and then as small electrical items powered by thin lithium batteries. Since then, they have moved to become fashion items, with prestige brands and large, expensive products. Today, watches are coming back to the age of technology. Many will carry a smartphone in their pocket, and glance at it to tell the time, rather than have a watch on their wrist. A smartphone can do so much more; it is a timer, an alarm, a stopwatch, a camera, a social media portal, and also a telephone.
Therefore, a watch needs to do more than just tell the time. It needs to offer convenience, and it needs to be a multifunctional gadget, something that will appeal to the consumer. Smart watches represent the biggest hype product at present for the electronic wearable industry. But current devices have tended to be rather bulky, and not able to yet draw on the unique properties that wearable electronics offer. Both Sony and Samsung have launched watches using OLED displays, but firms have not yet progressed to innovative, truly wraparound products.
In addition, headsets like Google Glass can be brought into the same category. So too can sensing wristbands, which offer health and movement tracking. Clothing certainly plays a part in the future of wearable electronics – for instance, gowns, vests or smart patches for medical patient monitoring of vital signs; or fashion, where integrated electronics could communicate, help the wearer stand out, or allow for dynamic, changing styles. All of the above is being explored, today, by technology developers and multinationals alike.
Wearable technology needs to do a number of things in order to engage the user. It needs to be comfortable, practical, useful and reliable. The ideas for technology to achieve these goals are still developing, even if wearable technology is already becoming available. A smart wearable device cannot simply be technology for technology’s sake – a device that is expected to be bought because it is a gadget. It has to be practical, and do something that the user needs; otherwise it will not be able to carve out a significant market of its own. Smartphones offered connectivity with social media, email and other applications in an easy-to-use interface. Smart wearables need to find their own proposition, around greater convenience or connectivity.
Where will wearables go?
Moving from the smart watch, one of the big opportunities for wearables is in wellbeing and fitness-related devices. The trend for selling devices that monitor the wearer’s activity is growing.
Consumers are seeing the value in ge...