Beyond the Smartwatch: Three Wearable Tech Trends to Watch

Beyond the Smartwatch: Three Wearable Tech Trends to Watch

Beyond the Smartwatch: Three Wearable Tech Trends to Watch

As the smartwatch market matures, the capabilities of alternative wearables continue to expand. In the coming years, alternative form factors may begin to appeal to consumers. Not only could these devices offer more value, but they also have the potential to access new biometric data. The wearable tech industry is driven by demand for more data – but faces maturity at a time of economic contraction. This article summarizes what life might look like beyond the smartwatch boom, with three trends to watch.

Headphones: listening to our emotions

Adoption of Apple AirPods has increased tenfold over the past five years as Bluetooth technology brings true wireless stereo to the mass market. Like their smartwatch companions, the price of these hearing aids remains high, and consumers may start turning to cheaper options without innovation. However, headphones have a fundamental advantage that wearing on the wrist does not: they are close to the brain.

The proximity of the ear to the brain could give more advanced headphones a market advantage in years to come. Metal electrodes used to measure electrical signals from the heart (ECG) can also measure neural activity (EEG). This is covered in IDTechEx’s dedicated report on wearable sensors.

Source: IDTechEx

Measurements of brain signals can quantify stress, sleep quality and emotional state, as well as diagnose epilepsy. It is already possible to buy headbands integrated into the EEG, but these are much less fashionable and mainly sold as a novelty toy. The challenge to date for an in-ear solution has been miniaturization of electronics and noise suppression. Yet in recent years, some companies, such as Naox Technologies and Kokoon, have demonstrated that EEG-integrated hearing aids are feasible.

At the same time, the demand for emotional state data is also increasing. Advertisers are increasingly turning to EEG for access. For example, it is now commonly used to gauge viewer engagement with Super Bowl ads.

So far, major brands have refrained from adding new sensor technologies to their hearing aids. It has long been possible to integrate optical heart rate sensors into headphones, and although specific devices for sports are available, this has not found its way into the mass market. It’s probably because the priority has been to improve the audio quality. This is also because it provides a set of snooze data available from the watch. Also, the headphones cannot offer real-time data visualization.

However, given their unique ability to interpret neural signals, it may be time for hearing aids to play a more advanced role in collecting user data via EEG. Indeed, implantable electrodes are already used to communicate with exoskeletons to enable paraplegics to walk. So, while 2023 might be a little early to see the mass adoption of mind-reading headphones, it might just be time to see a shift in the direction of progress in the shift from big-brand wrist wear to devices. auditory. Consumers who aren’t impressed with incremental improvements in smartwatch hardware can limit their spending on new consumer electronics to a more impressive pair of headphones.

Removable Pods and Performance Analytics: A More Personalized Approach to Wearable Device Adoption

Fitness tracking smartwatches and wristbands currently dominate the activity monitoring market, but demand for a more personalized approach may be on the horizon. Much of the value gained from our wearable devices comes from software analyzing our movements. However, the raw motion data available from a watch alone has limitations, and the data analytics available from platforms created for athletes also have benefits for the mass market.

The material currently limits the use of watches during contact sports because it is too dangerous. Additionally, detectable movements at the wrist do not capture very accurately specific movements associated with certain sports, such as weightlifting or strength training. One solution proposed for the professional sports market is the use of removable carrycots.

Removable pods can hold the same motion and heart rate sensors found in smartwatches, but they’re held in place via pockets in chest straps, underwear, or pants (more on those types sensors are covered in the wearable sensors report). It is now common to see Premier League footballers and NFL players wearing chest straps from Statsport or Kinexon. Likewise, professional golfers and cyclists are adopting Whoop bands which can be worn on the wrist or adapted to be inserted into clothing.

For some companies, elite athletes have served as a marketing tool for their apparel. As such, the ability to improve knowledge about stress and recovery, along with the ability to use pods as well as wrist wear, is beginning to reach a wider market. This trend is expected to continue into 2023, especially since much of the value in this business model resides in software. This allows companies, such as Whoop, to offer a subscription to their platform, which includes the hardware. This could make it more affordable for the mainstream market, which would appreciate receiving upgraded hardware as standard. In the future, packages targeting amateur athletes and the broader wellness market will likely emerge. Consumers would appreciate the opportunity to take a more personalized approach to their fitness tracking, combining removable pods, watches, performance analytics and data sharing to suit their needs.

Removable pods and performance analysis. Source: IDTechEx

Helmets and Goggles: Preparing for the Metaverse

What lies beyond the smartwatch will largely be dictated by the future of how we interact with each other and with the internet. Today, it’s common to use a laptop, smartphone, and possibly a smartwatch for activity tracking and hands-free communication if desired. But this ecosystem has been status quo for many years and could be disrupted.

Phone design has stagnated in recent years and, combined with ‘zoom fatigue’ following the pandemic, there are signs that consumers are craving something more immersive.

Here enters the concept of the ‘meta-verse’. The development of augmented reality headsets and connected glasses could one day make the smartphone superfluous, taking with it connected watches. Wearable biometrics will likely follow if society switches to headsets for messaging, web browsing and gaming.

AR/VR (augmented/virtual reality) headsets already need motion sensors and cameras for eye tracking. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine the integration of dry electrodes on the forehead, collecting both heart rate data and measuring neural signals.

This type of revolution is most likely to paint a picture of the world beyond the smartwatch. However, the success of this change will depend on advances in display optics, which are still at least a few years away from reaching mass-market-ready levels of miniaturization. In the meantime, headgear and smart glasses need to be more socially accepted. As such, interim products (such as Ray Bans with built-in cameras) will likely continue to be released to make them more fashionable. Likewise, gaming headsets are already featured in an increasing number of television commercials. While they may seem unsettling to some now, this time next year society will likely be much more comfortable with them.


The ultimate hurdle facing headphones, detachable pods, and headsets is balancing data access with viewing and social acceptance. Real-time activity monitoring is a major benefit of wearable devices; seeing it live on a watch is a huge selling point. This feature will likely see consumer adoption of new wearables based on connectivity to existing smartwatches. When it comes to social acceptance, integration into the right branded hardware will be crucial. The marketing challenge faced by manufacturers seeking to appeal to a wider audience of consumers, elite athletes and the medical market is not trivial, but also beyond the expertise of manufacturers of electronics kings large today’s audience. The smartwatch risks following the trajectory of the smartphone by becoming less imposing but continually in demand. The real opportunity is in the next generation of wearables, smartwatches will interface to satisfy the demand for new features. This market has a lot more room for new players, materials and innovation.

IDTechEx offers an extensive portfolio of technical market research reports covering many aspects of the wearable technology space. These include wearable sensors, electronic skin patches, AR/VR, electronic textiles, and hearing aids. IDTechEx also has related content dedicated to remote patient monitoring, diabetes management, and printed sensors. All of these reports cover the current state and expected future developments, both in terms of technical capabilities and commercial adoption. Granular forecasts segmented by technology and application help plan future projects, while several company profiles based on primary interviews provide a detailed overview of key players. The reports also include multiple application examples, SWOT analysis, and technology/business readiness assessments.

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