Wear­able tech­nol­ogy cer­tainly isn’t new. In 1976, Hamil­ton Pul­sar intro­duced the cal­cu­la­tor watch, com­plete with a sty­lus for press­ing those incred­i­bly tiny but­tons. HP and Texas Instru­ments were fast to fol­low, with a host of gam­ing watches rolling out soon after—who didn’t want to play Super Mario Bros. and Space Invaders on the go?

Although wear­able tech has been around in some form or another for the last three-plus decades, its pre­de­ces­sors were much more “geek” than “chic” and existed solely for the ease, con­ve­nience, and enter­tain­ment of the wearer. But with Google Glass’s high-profile entrance into the mar­ket this past year, a newer, brighter light was seem­ingly shone onto the wear­able tech land­scape as a whole.

We’re just days into 2014, and many experts are already tout­ing it as the year of wear­able tech­nol­ogy, cit­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of in-market and soon-to-be avail­able devices dom­i­nat­ing the dig­i­tal chat­ter. Regard­less of the expec­ta­tion, the num­bers can’t be denied. What’s before us is a boom­ing indus­try, expected to reach nearly half a bil­lion annual ship­ments in the next four years, accord­ing to ABI Research. This year alone, the global wear­able tech mar­ket could top $4.5 bil­lion.

Right now the clear winner—potentially the only clear win­ner at this point—is the host of sport and activ­ity track­ers. The almost-ubiquitous train­ing and per­sonal well­ness tool made up more than three-fifths of the wear­able tech mar­ket in 2013. From Fit­bit to Jaw­bone and Nike’s pop­u­lar Fuel­Band, every­one, it seemed, was lever­ag­ing these con­ve­nient wrist­bands to opti­mize weight loss and well­ness. And with aver­age prices rang­ing from $50 to $100, the wrist­band was hands down the most con­sumer acces­si­ble tool on the mar­ket in the last 12 months.

Push­ing the enve­lope in this bucket is fit-tech leader Basis, who showed off a sleek sleep tracker that will offer wear­ers a detailed break­down of their ZZZs, from toss­ing and turn­ing counts to nightly inter­rup­tions, heart rate, skin tem­per­a­ture, and restora­tive REM time. All, of course, sync with a now-updated mobile app for iOS and Android and will be avail­able start­ing Jan­u­ary 21. It got a cool facelift, too, with a stain­less steel band that gives it a visual leg up on its plastic-banded predecessor.

The com­pany already offers some of the most sophis­ti­cated tools out there, with bands that gauge 24/7 heart rate, body move­ments, work­out inten­sity, sweat lev­els, exer­tion level, and sleep qual­ity, sync­ing data to your smart­phone. Also inter­est­ing is that Basis devices, unlike the name brand prod­ucts on the mar­ket, are pre­dom­i­nantly geared toward the health con­scious and not the wannabe fit­ness freak. The company’s site touts mak­ing small changes and lever­ag­ing the knowl­edge com­ing out of your Basis tracker to max­i­mize per­sonal poten­tial and cre­ate pos­i­tive habits. Not a bad niche in an indus­try likely to make major strides in 2014.

Besides activ­ity track­ers, what else is look­ing good this year? Smart watches, for sure. With their ever-expanding app sup­port and sub-$300 price point, more users will be jump­ing on this trend in the com­ing months. The first true smart watch came in Q4 of 2013, with Samsung’s release of Galaxy Gear in the pre­hol­i­day weeks. Herald­ing it as “the next big thing,” Sam­sung posi­tioned Galaxy Gear among leg­ends, from Dick Tracy’s two-way radio watch to Knight Rider’s wrist com­mu­ni­ca­tor and even Inspec­tor Gadget’s go, go, gad­get watch from the 1980s. Lofty ambi­tions, perhaps.

How­ever, despite sell­ing around 800,000 pieces in its first two months, the reviews remain less than enthu­si­as­tic. That said, with Apple teas­ing a 2014 release of its buzzed-about iWatch—and CEO Tim Cook indi­cat­ing that the device will have more con­sumer appeal than Google Glass—smart watches as a whole are expected to dom­i­nate the mar­ket in the next 12 to 24 months.

What else will make a splash? Fol­low­ing on the suc­cess­ful heels of the activ­ity tracker boom, per­sonal health and well­ness soft­ware and ser­vices will make steady increases in the year ahead. The Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Asso­ci­a­tion expects these advances to increase 142 per­cent over the next five years thanks in large part to a boom in the wear­able tech mar­ket. Think bio sen­sor shirts, like those com­ing out of Cana­dian com­pany OMSig­nal, which will likely hit the mar­ket in a big way this year and next. These styl­ish com­pres­sion gar­ments acti­vate cir­cu­la­tion, aid per­for­mance, and are even pur­ported to drive faster, more effi­cient mus­cle recov­ery, while their embed­ded sen­sors mon­i­tor heart rate, activ­ity, breath­ing, and a host of other func­tions. All of this valu­able bio-data syncs with your mobile phone instantly, help­ing you track progress and chart suc­cesses. Happy with your old work­out tee? Try a sensor-enhanced bra or socks—both can track food con­sump­tion and help stave off overeat­ing. They aren’t far behind.

And the impli­ca­tions go far beyond the gym. Think shirt-embedded sen­sors that track overnight pat­terns for sleep apnea suf­fer­ers, or even trig­gers for those with chronic phys­i­cal and emo­tional con­di­tions, from asthma to panic attacks. In the future, this infor­ma­tion could sync not only with patients’ smart­phones but with their doc­tors’, enabling them to make rec­om­men­da­tions and, essen­tially, track patients in their day-to-day envi­ron­ment to make more effi­cient, effec­tive diag­noses and treat­ment plans, and track their suc­cess in real time.

Google Glass isn’t the only thing that’s high tech and will travel. Your clothes, your watch, and even your under­wear and your eye­lashes are ready to help you enhance your well-being and increase your day-to-day effi­ciency. Now the big ques­tion: what’s the impli­ca­tion for mar­keters? These devices and their related apps will know every­thing and any­thing about any­one and every­one, from med­ical con­di­tions and well­ness goals to activ­ity lev­els and pref­er­ences, tem­po­ral pat­terns, geo­tar­get­ing infor­ma­tion, and much, much more. Will phase two be tar­get­ing users with rel­e­vant offers, con­tent, and infor­ma­tion? Is there an eth­i­cal hic­cup that will keep brands from tap­ping into this seem­ingly pro­pri­etary data for fis­cal gain? Or could these align­ments actu­ally enhance the con­sumer experience?

It’s a big topic and one likely to be explored in more detail at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show. I’ll review what I’m see­ing com­ing back from the con­fer­ence and, next week, tackle some of the mar­ket­ing and opti­miza­tion ques­tions tied to wear­able tech.

1 comments
Nishith Saraswat
Nishith Saraswat

Great Article Kevin!!


I totally agree with you. For me as I am a developer and Social Media Business Strategist. I always like to see it from social media and leads point of view. In addition to the points made in the article I will also like to add that wearable tech can take on-line and offline integration to a whole new level. 


Won't it be great to have a gadget that will take a snap shot upload it your favourite page or just like the Facebook page of your favourite product just by a like hand gesture. 


Or If you see a great promotion ad and your entry can be submitted just by tapping on it. 


These are small things but such small innovations can turn on-line and traditional marketing integration to a whole new level. 


Possibilities and endless for both consumers and Marketers. 


Cheerz 

Nishith Saraswat