In 2015, the wearable technology market will reach $24.2 billion. However, 74 percent of that growth will be with mature wearable product categories -- such as smart watches, wireless earphones and blood glucose test strips, according to the latest market study by IDTechEx Research.
The last five years has seen significant interest in new wearable devices and associated software applications -- particularly fitness trackers -- as demonstrated by the following Google Trends report.
Many of the companies looking to commercialize a new wearable technology are searching for business partners within the healthcare and medical apparatus industry. The motivation is somewhat obvious.
The upside opportunity for wearable devices is in the medical and healthcare apps environment. Moreover, including blood glucose monitoring use cases, healthcare is already the largest single sector -- measured by sales revenue -- in the established wearable technology marketplace.
Some of the key advantages offered by emerging new components are highly applicable to healthcare -- offering new, comfortable, portable and practical ways to measure the human body, utilizing stretchable sensor electronics and thin film flexible batteries.
However, more than any other sector, healthcare applications require data reliability and accuracy. These key requirements can create significant barriers to market entry.
While many of the medical tests that are currently conducted under supervised hospital conditions can be produced with user-installed wearable devices, the challenge is to achieve equivalent or superior reliability and accuracy at lower price points.
That said, according to the IDTechEx assessment, wearable technology solutions offer more practical, comfortable and convenient in numerous healthcare-related situations.
Medical device manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, already invest in significant research and development of new technologies, and these types of companies are usually the primary targets for vendors looking to commercialize digital components.
However, progress can also take a huge investment in time. Where the sensor has important health consequences, it will need to be approved by the local government regulator. That typically means long clinical trials and potentially many years of market development activities.
Then it has to be approved for reimbursement by Governments versus the incumbent technology -- if there is one to use, for comparison. This approach is similar to the pharmaceutical industry model -- where long-term research and development investment is the norm, but the potential for blockbuster sales revenue is the outcome.
In contrast, unregulated health-related devices -- such as general fitness trackers -- can get to market much faster but are much more prone to open competition. As an example, some of the current fitness bands are now made in China for less than $5, according to the IDTechEx study.
As a result, savvy hardware and software vendors will continue to adapt to the rapidly evolving field of emerging opportunities within the wearables market and the broader Internet of Things (IoT) economy.