Wearable Sensor Market Set to Explode

By Helen Vince

Wearables – There is a coming age of sensors just around the corner, if you are a believer in the technology wave set to take over consumer electronics beginning (you guessed it) NOW. And that would mean we will see an army of new products, to add to the group already launched, at the upcoming CES just a few short weeks away.

IHS reckons that just under half a billion sensor devices will ship by the  end of 2019 integrated into approximately 135M wearable devices with a sensor density growing to 4.1 sensors per device by the end of that survey period. Do the math and you get to some 466M sensors by the end of 2019. That sensor density number is up from just 1.4 sensors per wearable device the group identified in 2013, with a total number of sensors that shipped last year pegged at just 67M units. In short, growth for sensors should be up 7X while wearable devices should rise at a 3X rate through 2019.

All of this comes on the heels of the soon to be launched Apple Watch (notice so far anyway no “i” in the new Apple product). Now traditionally Apple is a No-Show at the consumer electronic confab and this continued snub does not win any fans in the industry for the company. But Apple is poised to lead this sensor/wearable revolution anyway, according to IHS, even though its already happening with many products already on the shelves at local retailers like WalMart, BestBuy etc. This, according to the most recent IHS Sensor Report Jérémie Bouchaud, MEMS and Sensors, analyst for IHS believes that Apple will again set the standard with its upcoming wearable device. “Similarly to the iPhone and iPad, the Apple Watch will set a de facto standard for sensor specifications in smartwatches”, according to Bouchaud. She believes “…most other wearable OEMs will follow Apple’s lead in using these four devices, or will add even more sensors to differentiate.

One look at the IHS chart tells the story that to date, the fitness category dominated by more simple (that is single) wearable sensor devices will begin to give way to the smartwatch category with multiple sensors (Apple will ship up to four) in a single device. Note that Bouchaud’s crystal ball doesn’t take much polishing to come to the conclusion that Apple will be an early dominant player in the space. Its ecosystem and reputation alone will help propel the company forward in the category. But as IHS notes, and we agree, folks want the wearable device to be an extension of the smartphone, not a stand alone device per se. Particularly if that comes at the expense of a long battery life, way (cool) thin design, and perhaps even a flexible (full color?) display. All things the Apple Watch is NOT. Apple may find that cracking the wearable market is going to be far harder (with far more competition) than previously thought. And while the Apple watch as shown during the iPhone 6 product launch looks cool from a functionality standpoint, from a distance, the short battery life, and clunky me-too square display (and perhaps even heavy) design is not the technology that will usher wearables into the mainstream consumer space.

Age of App-Cessories

Truth is, beyond the wearable sensor market, we are coming into the age of Application Accessories (“App-Cessories”) if you will, a term coined in 2013 by Dr. Janusz Bryzek of Fairchild Semi in his iNEMI Spring Member Meeting presentation on the Trillion Sensor Universe. In this vision the wearable sensor device is simply one of many sub-categories participating at the nexus of computing/communication/and sensing. Yes, wearables have the unique distinction as up front and in our personal space – allowing hands free operation and empowering us in new ways with brand new (OK and way cool, exciting) use models. But it is just the beginning.

Suffice it to say we see the sensor technology trends that have the potential to far exceed the predictions of IHS, moving well beyond smartphone and wearable technology. Here along with the communication and computer revolution, sensing will come to stand as a third leg in the stool that provides a new platform from which to re-create, Well – everything, all over again. Look for more on this topic in coming posts. –  Steve Sechrist 

Wearable Isle at WalMart US dedicated to wearable sensor devices already a healthy market, Source: Sechrist