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 Kohli Ventures
29 October 2014

Wearable Technology

Until recently, an Armani suit and a Panerai watch might have been considered a winning combination; in the future, however, accessorising with wearable tech such as smart glasses, fitness bands and watches will be far more in vogue. Little wonder then that wearable tech is today not only part of our vocabulary, it is part of our lives and as a market is forecast to exceed $8 billion in revenues in 2018 up from over $2.5 billion in 2012.

Wearable technology is not only revolutionising users’ experiences but also reporting back to them on exactly how good or bad that experience was.

Its common features are that it has wireless connectivity, independently processes information using its advanced circuitry and must also be capable of being worn for an extended period of time.

It is also exciting people who want to share their knowledge and discovery of new and powerful devices.  In October 2014, 23,079 tweets mentioned ‘wearable tech’, compared with just 4,103 in January 2013 – the increase is almost as dramatic as the advancements in the technology itself.

Wearable tech is not as revolutionary an idea as it sounds though.

The concept has been around since the 1960s when various militaries around the world incorporated it into headgear for aviators in combat and in 1979, the Sony Walkman effectively became the first mass market wearable computer…

Today, the wearable tech market captures a range of sectors: industrial, fitness and health, medical and healthcare, military and infotainment and currently is encapsulated in a wide range of devices. Many readers will already use a Bluetooth headset or have an activity monitor such as a heart rate monitor or pedometer, many even combine a sleep sensor to let you know how many times you stirred during the night, the depth of your sleep and even how long it actually was before you went to sleep.

The first industry sector that has captured the public’s imagination for wearable tech is health and fitness – a remarkable 61% of all wearable devices track our activity and fitness.

A recent survey of Americans put this down to their belief that wearable tech makes them feel ‘more in control of their lives’.

The latest iPhone 6 is doing its bit to drive sales by including a ‘Health’ icon and underlying dashboard making the forecast of 100 million wearable fitness units by 2020 very achievable and, in our opinion, quite conservative; ABI Research has estimated the global market for wearables in health and fitness will be significantly larger suggesting it could reach 170 million devices by 2017. This quantum leap is supported by the entry into the market of most of the major platforms such as Google, Apple and Microsoft and the smartphone’s role is integral as the hub for all these devices.

Wearable tech can also have an incredible impact on lives.

In the healthcare sector, organisations such as Touch Bionics are revolutionising lives. This company, based in Livingston in Scotland, spun out of the National Health System and developed the world’s first powered prosthetic hand to incorporate articulating fingers – the i-limb hand; this wearable tech is now so sophisticated that not only does it work via Bluetooth, it can also be operated using an iPhone with a series of icons to support custom gestures. No wonder that this small company is having a massive impact globally – something we love at Kohli Ventures, and is continuing to innovate and lead the world in the development of upper limb prosthetic technologies.

For those with long-term illnesses and requiring continual monitoring, wearable tech will play an increasingly important role in reducing the burden on the healthcare system by facilitating remote monitoring and reducing the length of stay in hospital – a win win for everyone.

A recent article by  GlobalWebIndex revealed that 71% of those aged 16 to 20 want “wearable tech” which they define as being a smart watch, smart wristband or Google Glass. The same survey stated that an amazing 64% of internet users around the world have worn a piece of wearable tech already or are “keen to do so in the future” – women though, at 56%, are less keen than men in aggregate at 69%.  Currently the biggest barrier to growth is wearers losing interest. However, as the market gets sexier with the likes of developing a ‘smartcuff’ this hurdle of moving from the initial adoption by the gadget geeks to mainstream adoption is surely only a matter of time.

Emerging markets, as in many other areas today, may well hold the key to growth – particularly given the fact that over half of the world’s population lives in this countries. People in emerging markets, particularly the youth which makes up the majority of the population, have experienced technology from a different starting point; many emerging markets skipped the landline altogether and went straight to mobile communications.  The Kenyans were the early adopters of SMS banking having it long before the US thanks to M-Pesa.

Today there is increasing talk about ‘the internet of things’ with Gartner forecasting that there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the internet of things by 2020. For us, the idea that our fridge is busy communicating with a plethora of other devices is considerably less exciting than the idea that soon we will be able to use our watches as mission control.

Wherever you sit in the debate, the fact is that soon every part of our life will be online and measurable and wearable tech is a new and important device category.