Is there room for innovation in wearable healthcare solutions?
Wearable technology such as ear-worn devices, head-mounted displays, and, above all, smartwatches are now mainstream — and its advance shows no signs of slowing down.
With the growing demand by consumers to monitor their own health, the use of wearable technology has almost quadrupled in the past few years. According to a study by Global Data, this sector was worth $23 billion in 2018 and will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19% to reach $54 billion in 2023.
This growing demand for wearables has created a booming market, and consumers are expecting more and more features in the upcoming versions of wearables. This trend leads to some questions. Are the devices performing at their best? Is there room for innovation in wearable healthcare solutions?
Are wearables performing at their best?
Wearable technology has improved enormously over the past five years and has been adopted across a range of sectors, including healthcare, where it is helping to solve some of the biggest problems such as training doctors, preventing disease or assessing the risk of death in patients with diabetes, cancer or heart problems. But despite major improvements in the wearable tech industry, 47% of respondents to a Plastic Logic survey said they were dissatisfied with the user experience, particularly with regard to convenience and ease of use in everyday situations.
A similar study conducted by ConsumerLab also revealed that 6 out of 10 smartphone users believe that wearables will soon have uses beyond just health and wellness.
These consumer expectations will likely be reflected in more software and hardware improvement, such as new features, better accuracy in data collection, and lighter devices, so there is plenty of room for innovation in the wearable healthcare sector.
Some areas for innovation in the wearable industry
As adoption rates for wearable devices continue to rise, consumers expect manufacturers to address issues such as functional uniqueness, incompatibility between operating systems and software, the inadequacy of human–machine interaction, the treatment of confidential information, and power consumption problems caused by continuous usage.
In healthcare, both consumers and healthcare specialists expect wearables to be able to monitor data such as the content of alcohol or glucose in sweat, and for other wearable data to be more accurate and practical — which means manufacturers have to be increasingly innovative.
For there to be key improvements in wearables, hardware and software are the key areas that need to be addressed.
Features and software
The human body is prone to many ailments that require accurate measurements, so inaccurate wearable devices are useless at best and dangerous at worst. It is therefore imperative that manufacturers of devices used in healthcare create software that is not only accurate but also feature-rich.
Ear-worn devices and head-mounted displays are the two types of wearables most susceptible to software innovation.
– Ear-worn devices
Ear-worn devices are one category of wearables that will undergo a lot of innovations in the near future.
Gartner predicts that by 2022, ear-worn devices will account for more than 30 percent of all wearables, as their performance will extend beyond communication and entertainment. Wearables technologists forecast a future in which AI-empowered virtual assistants interact with ear-worn-device users by providing information on demand — acting as a care provider and reminding patients to take their meds, exercise, or visit their physicians.
Poppy Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, said: “Soon, wearable devices that tuck into our ears will monitor our biological signals to reveal when we are emotionally stressed and when our brains are being overtaxed. When we are struggling to hear or understand, these devices will proactively help us focus on the sounds we want to hear.”
– Head-mounted devices
AR and VR will be used not only in areas like stroke recovery and optical rehabilitation, but also in stress management, exercise, and speech therapy.
In the future, it is very likely that when patients enter a medical clinic, they’ll first put on a pair of AR glasses, which will provide them with snippets of information, charts, and diagrams as they consult their healthcare professionals. These devices will serve to make medical appointments a much more informative and comprehensive experience.
By 2025, consumers will be able to use AR-based applications to analyze their well-being in real-time, which will give them a better understanding of the effects of environmental pollution and unhealthy lifestyle on their bodies.
Hardware and ergonomy
Devices that measure data such as the sugar content in the sweat of diabetics are becoming increasingly lighter and smaller. In addition, these devices need the ability to connect and operate for a long time without battery failure.
As a result, manufacturers are giving increasing consideration to the following characteristics.
– Product size
As wearables become more commonplace, consumers expect them to be lighter, smaller, and more comfortable. According to a Chinese study, more than 45% of respondents reported their devices were uncomfortable to wear. To stay in the race, manufacturers will have to concentrate on making their devices lighter and more ergonomic.
Wearable devices are expected to become less visible and more stylish as they gain popularity. Devices that currently look like a clip-on tracker or fitness bracelet may end up looking more like a piece of jewelry or clothing in the future. They may also be hidden from public view in the form of a patch or strap.
– Connectivity and battery life
Limited battery life and dependence on other computing devices, as well as poor connectivity and latency that interfere with the device’s real-time functionality, also make wearables difficult to use.
With the advent of 5G and improved battery technology, these issues will be resolved and consumers will be able to enjoy a better user experience. Many wearables will then be able to interact with far greater volumes of data wirelessly, which will make them infinitely more user-friendly than they currently are.
In a few years, according to 5G optimists, wearables will be more stylish and smaller than current versions and will nonetheless require less internal data-processing power as they move from local storage to cloud storage.
Today, popular wearable devices such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch are designed to help consumers improve their health and fitness. But many companies are taking the next step and producing wearable devices that help monitor and solve more sensitive medical problems. The wearable tech industry will witness tremendous innovations in the near future.