How Wearable Technology is Transforming Wellness
The sophistication of wearable health and fitness devices means no more guesswork about our personal wellbeing — which is a proposition worth buying into.
- Global spending on wearable devices this year will reach $81.5 billion, marking an 18.1% increase from $69 billion in 2020
- The Apple Watch continues to dominate with a 34% share of the global market and grew shipments of all models by 50% year-over-year in F1 2021
- Whoop is an emerging player in this fitness wearable space and stands out due to its clever partnerships, slick marketing, and unique research efforts
- Health wearables like smart patch biosensors are projected to see significant growth in 2021 due to advances in miniaturization and greater acceptance of automated health
The consumer wearables market is already a force to be reckoned with and is anticipated to continue a high growth trajectory. While consumer wearables can include devices such as VR headsets or personal cameras, much of this market is fitness and health-focused, and the pandemic has ushered in more interest in this area. Although COVID-19 has caused supply chain inefficiencies as well as a delay in research and development, the pandemic has also made wearable devices that served healthcare functions or aided workplace productivity especially desirable among consumers, due to more remote working and wishes for health monitoring; according to research from Insider Intelligence, now more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology. Given this heightened consumer desire and new application areas for this technology, there is a lot of opportunity on the horizon for innovative ways to adapt the want for more personalized, human insight-driven devices.
Fitness Trackers and Smartwatches
Watches with heart rate monitors have been around since the 1980s, but modern-day trackers take this activity recording to a whole new level. Fitbit was the market leader for some time, with its 2015 IPO outperforming share estimates and garnering a lot of excitement from investors; however, competition from an array of other tech companies creating similar trackers saturated the market. The rise of the smartwatch further complicated things, as it has overlap with a fitness tracker, but its integration with the internet, talk, text, apps, etc. means it can perform a more diverse offering of functions.
Apple’s watch dominates this sphere, taking up a 33.5% share of the global market followed by Chinese company Huawei with 8.4%, Samsung with 8%, and iMoo with 5.1%. Fitbit now has a 4.2% chunk and the array of smaller alternatives such as the Oura Smart ring or Fitbug hip tracker account for 40.8% of the market. Despite Fitbit trying its hand at a smartwatch and Google purchasing the company for $2.1 billion in 2020, Apple continues to reign supreme. Google has the means to compete with Apple, but its first attempt at a wearable since the acquisition has not been a success; for now, it does not appear to be a wise investment, especially with its track record of lackluster acquisitions, like Motorola in 2012.
Apple released its Series 6 watch and grew shipments of all models by 50% year-over-year in F1 2021, increasing its market share moderately. Apple’s announcement of its 7 Series Apple Watch comes complete with alerts of impending rain, cycling directions, a compass, the ability to check your blood oxygen level, accurately monitor more niche activities such as snowboarding or tai chi, or order food through its apps. It even has the capability to share your heartbeat in real time with a friend. With each model boasting new features and more and more consumers wanting to try out information on their wrist, many are turning to the tech giant they trust. Apple does not appear to be hitting a plateau in the near future in the wearables department.
Despite fitness trackers often being eclipsed by the more interconnected smartwatches, one company that shines for its innovative approach to fitness tracking is Whoop. Whoop has been around since 2012, and it continues to raise impressive capital; it just completed its Series F round with a $200 million raise to bring its total funding to $405 million.
What makes Whoop stand out is its target of serious athletes. The Whoop strap provides data tracking of continuous heart rate and heart variance monitoring, sleep, recovery, and more with a 5 day battery life. Whoop utilizes sophisticated data such as skin temperature to produce a “strain” score, measuring how hard you worked on a scale from 1 to 21. This can indicate when you’ve had ample rest and monitor the exertion and efficiency of your workouts. Users also get access to in-depth analytics over time to view their personal progression and compare it to other baselines.
Whoop has partnered with the PGA, LPGA, MLB, NFL, and CrossFit community as well as individual athletes. In doing so, it has carved itself out as a niche for true athletic performance, and it brings others into the experience — for example, NBC showed drivers’ live heart rates during a NASCAR race through Whoop’s Live software. What used to be a $500 fee for the strap is now parsed into a monthly subscription with the use of the Whoop app, which seems similar to Peloton in its cult following and shows Whoop thinking smartly about interconnectedness and the power of a fitness community.
Additionally, Whoop has been pioneering research with its data. It partnered with the U.S. Army Paratroopers to study the resiliency of soldiers operating in an Arctic environment, offering real physiological insights into how soldiers perform and manage stress in such harsh conditions. Whoop’s other major research effort concerns how its respiratory monitoring can be used as an early Covid-19 detection tool.
Whoop is showing that they are not solely a fitness company but a human performance brand that wants to utilize data to really understand our bodies. Its branding’s elite appeal, clever partnerships, and diverse investment in cutting-edge research is a company that understands the important intersection between health and technology that wearables can explore. Although Apple is the king of the smartwatch department and many of the fitness companies are struggling to keep up, Whoop is the kind of innovative disruptor to stay on your radar.
The Future of Health Wearables
Next on the frontier for smartwatch producers is displays on eyewear. There have also been developments with headbands such as the Muse, which uses EEG brain sensing to maintain calm and improves sleep, as well as rising popularity for mindfulness and meditation earpieces.
Some consumers may contend that these gadgets are nonessentials, but there are also many debuts of wearables that are specifically health-focused. Wearable ECG monitors can send readings to a user’s doctor and detect atrial fibrillation, and there are fitness trackers that also function as wearable blood pressure monitors. Biosensors are another innovation that deviate markedly in their design from wrist trackers and smart watches. Philips designed a self-adhesive patch biosensor that collects data on patients’ movement, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, blood sugar, and other vital statistics. These smart patches may be more effective in measurement than other wearable technologies, and they can also administer medication, such as insulin for diabetic patients. Smart patches are projected to see significant growth in 2021, largely because the shift to e-health has warmed up patients and physicians to the idea of automated health.
There is a lot in store for the wearables market, which grew by 35% in F1 2021. Consumers are more inclined to learn about their health than ever, with the number of health and fitness app users staying above 84 million through 2022 and 75% of users agreeing that wearables help them engage with their own health. A barrier for adoption for some consumers has been aesthetics, but advancements in miniaturization are predicted to make 10% of all wearable technologies unobtrusive to the user by 2024; they will take the form of discreet smart garments, ingestibles, smart patches, and more. These wearable tech solutions are exciting because they empower us with the ability to be in constant sync with our health, giving ourselves and our health providers more information to better prevent and diagnose illness, thus reducing hospital visits and lowering costs per patient by insurers.