Constantly Connected: A Look at Wearable Trends
The release of new and exciting gadgets each month shows that the explosion of connected devices is not slowing down anytime soon. Consumers are becoming increasingly connected in more ways than one – from their smartphones and laptops, to “wearing” their connectivity.
According to research firm IDC, the wearables market will nearly double by 2021, with device shipments expected to reach to 240.1 million. Over the next few years, how do you think the industry will continue to take shape? Let’s take a closer look at the trends influencing the wearable space:
The “Invisible” Wearable
Wearable technology is starting to integrate itself into our lives on a more subtle level. Not all smartwatches will have a touch screen that looks like the Apple Watch. Instead, we will see more watchmakers incorporate the latest technology into more traditional designs with “hybrid watches.” This type of wearable often will not have a gadget facade and will instead maintain an analog form that can hide its tech features within a classic-looking timepiece. These hybrid watches help solve a big consumer frustration: poor smartwatch battery life. Low power components are essential for prolonging the battery life of your favorite smartwatch. The hybrid and traditional watches consume less battery, allowing these gadgets to run for days, weeks, or months at a time. This year, we’ve seen this mix of old and new with Fossil’s Q smartwatch and Casio’s G-Shock’s discreet activity tracking features.
Technological advancements are also allowing sensors to become integrated in more flexible formats and materials, like clothing. Last year, Cypress partnered with Hexoskin, a Canadian-based smart clothing company, in the development of the Hexoskin Smart biometric-tracking shirts. Our small, low-power Bluetooth module is embedded in these shirts to collect data and send it to the user’s mobile device to track and analyze cardiac, respiratory and activity data. These tiny modules seamlessly blend in with the design of the shirts so the wearer can inconspicuously track their health data, enabling fitness enthusiasts and tech geeks alike to look stylish and stay comfortable, all while taking full advantage of the latest wearable technology.
In a breakthrough earlier this year, Harvard engineers announced shieldex, a stretchable, motion-measuring sensor textile. These soft-sensors could lead to the mass production of smart clothing.
"Your whole home, office and car will be packed with these waiting computers and sensors. But they won’t be in your way, or perhaps even distinguishable as tech devices. This is ambient computing, the transformation of the environment all around us with intelligence and capabilities that don’t seem to be there at all.” – Walt Mossberg, Recode"
In the coming years, connected accessories and clothing will become a more common sight on the high fashion runways and in malls around the world. “Invisible” embedded solutions with extremely small form factors and flexible designs are essential to making smart clothing fashionable and desirable to mainstream consumers.
Augmented Reality Wearables
While most wearables on the market today tell us about ourselves and our bodies, augmented reality (AR) applications are opening the doors to more experiences in the outside world. One of the most popular AR applications is Pokémon Go, which transforms the world around you into PokéStops using location data from your smartphone. Since its launch last summer, the game has showcased the far reaching potential of AR applications beyond gaming; Pokémon Go and other AR applications are bringing people together, inspiring people to explore new areas and are providing an incentive for people to get more exercise.
Beyond its consumer use cases, augmented wearables are also making an appearance in enterprise applications. Recently, Google Glass made headlines again for its enterprise edition. The revamped glasses aim to help workers in various industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare and logistics, access information that can supplement their work. Manufacturing workers at GE are using Glass to pull up instructional videos and animations when repairing a machine, while doctors at Dignity Health are taking notes with Glass while speaking with patients.
Pokémon Go and Google Glass are just some of the latest artificial reality trends that represent the tip of the iceberg; AR is poised to truly revolutionize the way we access information and experience the world. As AR is integrated into wearables of all form factors, we’ll see new applications for almost every industry imaginable, from education to retail and healthcare to manufacturing.
Another exciting wearables trend is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into devices. According to a Counterpoint study, one in three wearables in 2017 will be AI-powered. Many wearables on the market use algorithms to synthesize data collected from users and make tailored recommendations for the users’ health, fitness, productivity and more. Getting a fitness trainer or health coach might be out of your budget, but an affordable AI-powered wearable could give you the information you need to get into shape and sleep better at night.
An AI-powered wearable could even save your life one day! A recent UCSF study found that the Apple Watch, when paired with neural network algorithms, can detect heart arrhythmia with 97 percent accuracy to warn patients when they need to seek medical care.
Need to brush up on your conversational skills? MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory built a deep-learning system that uses a smart watch to measure audio, text transcriptions, and physiological signals to detect emotions in conversations.
"Imagine if, at the end of a conversation, you could rewind it and see the moments when the people around you felt the most anxious. Our work is a step in this direction, suggesting that we may not be that far away from a world where people can have an AI social coach right in their pocket.” – Tuka Alhanai, MIT graduate student"
The portability and affordability of wearables makes them an ideal tool to unleash the power of AI to improve people’s lives. One thing to keep in mind is to look out for devices with ultra-low energy connectivity when you’re shopping for a new gadget. Compute-intensive processes like AI can drain batteries quickly, so embedded solutions that support standards like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are essential to making wearables devices run longer.
To bring to life wearables that are “invisible,” have AR functionality or are powered by AI, embedded solutions need to meet specific requirements. Microcontrollers, modules, NOR flash and other components need to be feature-rich to meet the high-performance needs of wearables. Embedded solutions must have an extremely small form factor so they can fit in slim, sleek devices or be integrated into smart fabrics. Low-power performance is another critical element, ensuring that battery life lasts as long as possible, especially since some applications in wearables are “always-on.” It’s also critical these components include strong built-in security features to protect devices from cyber-attacks. Cypress’ portfolio of secure, low power and flexible connectivity solutions power the hottest wearables on the market, and we can’t wait to see what new design problems our customers solve next.