The Internet of Things Is Here: Fitness Wearables, Smartwatches & Smartglasses
[Wearables Part 1/2]

You may not realize it, but you’re likely already a proud owner (or you’re at least aware) of IoT wearables. Smartglasses, smartwatches, fitness trackers and clothing sensors all are capable of data configuration. It’s natural that the IoT (Internet of Things) is finding its way into wearable technology, as part of the IoT mantra is to make everything more convenient and interconnected – and what’s more convenient than being linked through something you wear?

The marketplace is already full of useful but unwearable smart products, but with new improvements being made in technology that moves with you, the availability and marketability of wearable IoT will soon skyrocket. As reported by TechRepublic, the Consumer Technology Association estimates that, in 2016, wearables will be sold at a rate of 38 million, with most of these sales being fitness trackers and smartwatches. These two categories will make up a combined revenue of $4.9 billion.

Fresh, new, IoT wearable devices are coming out every year. As reported by Teena Maddox (@teena_maddox), Senior Editor at TechRepublic: “At CES 2016, there was a plethora of wearable devices dominating the scene, particularly fitness trackers, sensors, smartwatches, virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, also known as smartglasses.”

What are each of these IoT wearable categories all about? In part one of our two-part series, we’ll take a look at the capabilities of today’s latest fitness trackers, smartwatches and smartglasses. We’ll also identify some of the areas in which these devices have room to improve and discuss various components offered across different brands.

Fitness Trackers

Fitness IoT wearables – in the form of wristbands, watches, or other types of monitors – most often provide the wearer with biometric measurements. Heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen levels, perspiration levels, and other complex measurements can all be gauged through these types of trackers, which is helpful data when you’re trying to get in shape or stay in shape. With a fitness wearable, you can track and store your data in order to compare your fitness levels from one day to the next, or even one year to another. Doing so will enable you to analyze your progress and adjust your exercise regimen according to your rate of improvement. The information received from a fitness tracker can inform and amp up your fitness goals as you see your progress in numbers and figures right on your wrist.

With a greater global awareness of and dedication to health and fitness and a larger selection of apps and tech devices to help consumers track their progress, health and fitness wearables are in the top tier of IoT wearables.

Why are fitness-related wearables trending right now? Well, partly due to the fact that not only are individuals looking to track their fitness, but whole companies are encouraging employees to get healthy, as well. By giving employees the option to participate in health and fitness programs, some companies are popularizing IoT wearables like never before. This use of fitness wearables in large numbers is providing more opportunities for wearable brands to break into the market of health and fitness. With employees tracking their activity via wearable fitness trackers in exchange for discounts, a whole new era of IoT wearables is set to unfold.

To this end, principal for Endeavour Partners, Dan Ledger, remarked, “One of the things we’re seeing is a huge explosion in employer wellness programs that are continuing to help drive both adoption and engagement on wearable products. These programs wrap another layer of incentives around the experience so people have more to gain by sticking to their wearable devices.”

With more incentives to strap on your wearable device and more corporate fitness programs being initiated to promote health and wellness, it’s no surprise that IoT wearable market is booming. A 2015 report by Tech Pro Research found that nearly half of the businesses surveyed were already employing (or had plans to employ within the year) wearables within their companies. Headsets, smartwatches and sensors made up the top three devices already in use or with plans to be introduced.

Experts have predicted what’s to come in this new year, with CEO of Nymi, John Haggard, suggesting that the future of fitness IoT will involve multifunctioning apps. As quoted by Maddox: “2015 was the year where companies started talking about having a wearables strategy which indicates that wearable tech is here to stay. In 2016, we’re going to see continued consolidation in the market, with single-function devices taking a back seat to devices that feature a useful stack of applications.”

Smartwatches may be one of those multi-functioning devices.

Smartwatches

The main drawback for smartwatches at this time is that they provide a secondary smartphone screen, making them a device of convenience more than anything. Looked at as “kind of a novelty” by many experts (Ledger), smartwatches still have a ways to go before they’re as invaluable to a consumer as smartphones are.

Smartwatches are watches that double as mobile phones and emergency alert systems. In doing so, they offer a smart, convenient, hands-free alternative to your common smartphone or tablet. With the press of a button, a smartwatch wearer can contact a pre-set friend or family member in the event of an emergency. If this contact doesn’t pick up, the watch will move on sequentially to the next contact in the list, and so forth, until someone answers. Communication then happens through speaking into the watch like a phone.

Some smartwatches also offer GPS tracking, allowing parents to track the location of family members in order to be aware of their sprawl at all times. Additionally, wearers can play music on the watch, send and receive text messages and, of course, make calls. Some watches even offer a battery life that lasts for up to two days on standby – which, as most owners of any type of smart device know, is a decent length of time to go without a recharge.

As reported by Maddox, the vice president at Forrester, J.P. Gownder, predicts that while they’ll always be an accessory, rather than a primary device, the smartwatch market will expand: “Smartwatches will continue to grow, but they’ll also continue to disappoint some people. They’re never destined to become as common as smartphones…instead, they’ll become a common smartphone accessory that reaches 25 million people globally by the end of 2016.”

Investors and consumers are fairly wishy-washy about smartwatches. Consumer demand can be underwhelming when a new smartwatch appears on the market, which in turn, makes investors skittish. But many experts still see a lot of promise in these IoT wearables.

One example is APX Labs CEO, Brian Ballard, who predicts a double-down effect when it comes to smartwatches. As quoted by Maddox: “The biggest thing is we’ve gone from hype to momentum to traction in 2016. It’s where rubber meets the road in enterprise adoption. We’ve seen all the major vendors double down on enterprise. Whether smartglasses or wearables. Watches and fitness trackers are the ones that span both categories.”

Smartglasses

Smartglasses are blowing up, with some estimates putting their market growth at $6 billion in 2016. But some see the evolution of smartglass content and apps as more invaluable to the popularity of smartglasses than the actual hardware, itself. Barry Po (@barryp ), contributor to ngrain, notes, “Many signs indicate that software and platforms could be even more important than the evolution of hardware in the adoption of wearable technology across the enterprise. With access to the right data and capabilities to visualize that data in real-time, we see enormous opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of people, industrial machinery, and the interactions between them. Smartglasses and wearable displays, like any other mobile technology, are just one part of an entire ecosystem of interconnected technologies.”

Components and design vary across brands. Whether wearers choose monocular or binocular depends upon their preference and working environment. For instance, being unable to see past the display in an environment that requires the wearer’s undivided attention would be an issue. Moreover, the distance between a person’s eyes is individual to each person, which is why people who wear glasses most often have them fitted by a professional. For smartglasses, if the separation is too wide or too narrow, the display will be slightly distorted, ruining the experience for the wearer. So, if you’re considering smartglasses for your workforce, you might choose adjustable hardware to accommodate differences in inter-ocular separation.

These miniature mobile “see-through” computer screens are adaptable to different working environments, visual accommodation and applications. Mind-boggling as that may seem, as of this time, the capacity of most hardware is limited in display and resolution and various other kinks still need to be worked out before the smartglasses category is as popular as other wearables.

Brands are designing them differently, with some wearable displays only made visible when you need them, otherwise offsetting from your main field of vision, while others are designed to sit square in the wearer’s field of vision at all times. Additionally, the uncomfortable weight and temperature of smartglasses (which can heat up if run at full capacity for any great length of time) makes them a technology that, at this point, is not meant for extensive use.

Though smartglasses may seem like a useful tool to getting lost in virtual reality, day-in, day-out, they are as of now only an ‘occasional wear’ device. Po remarks, “Check out any number of reviews on the Web, and battery life will inevitably come up as a discussion point. On a good day, Google Glass might last 3-4 hours before needing a recharge. The Epson BT-200s are rated to last a full six hours, but this is also dependent on the brightness of the screen and how resource intensive your apps are. Even if battery life is set aside, it can be outright uncomfortable to wear glass displays for an extended period of time.”

Fitness trackers, smartwatches and smartglasses are just three categories of IoT wearables that are on the rise. In part two of our series, we’ll cover three other trending categories of IoT wearables: senior-monitoring, baby-monitoring and clothing-based wearables.

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