Wearable electronics: success factors for 12,000 developers

Dr Peter Harrop
Wearable electronics: success factors for 12,000 developers
Wearable electronics is a very fragmented industry when it comes to manufacturers. Even mature sub-sectors have no clear leaders in what will be a $70 billion plus business in 2024 with 12,000 developers and manufacturers as newly calculated by analysts IDTechEx. An example is the thousands of companies making basic earphones and electronic watches, nearly all in China. In premium versions there are some leaders. In the newer wearable electronics there are no clear leaders at all - nothing equivalent to Samsung and Apple winning in mobile phones for example, despite some wearable electronics being intimately linked to mobile phones.
Yet it is clear to all concerned that wearable electronics is a large business today and it will be a multiple of that in ten years from now. The new IDTechEx report, Wearable Technology 2014-2024: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts notes why so many of the famous names in apparel, electronics and infotainment are involved in an energetic struggle to win in wearable electronics before the sectors mature and only a few become winners, generating large amounts of cash. Thousands of others are competing with them and a shakeout will occur in about ten years from now as some new sectors offer real volume and the choice has to be niche or volume, at a huge investment cost often of billions of dollars just as happened with mobile phones, LCD and OLED displays and lithium-ion batteries. Brand power and strong routes to market are also effective but not enough on their own.
Large markets now and much bigger in future
Anything involving a head on clash of the titans of electronics and information technology is likely to be big and wearable electronics is no exception. Companies from many other industries are also involved, including component suppliers such as Qualcomm with a smart watch newly competing with their customers and investing in many start-ups to power more success in finished products rather than the sophisticated integrated circuits on their own.
Why software and services giants get involved
Companies such as Google, Baidu (the Chinese equivalent of Google), SAP and Microsoft are involved in wearable electronic hardware leading to a strong position later in wearable electronics services, they hope. However, the players in apparel and textile wearable electronics, where electronics increasingly and literally "vanishes into the fabric of society" are very different though Microsoft has dabbled in both, without, as yet, the inspirational products of Google which range from a planned smart contact lens to Google Glass eyewear launching this year.
It seems wristwear is attracting most attention; including Samsung's recently released Gear 2 and Gear Fit, and the Apple iWatch which is rumoured to be in production. Interestingly, Apple is not confining itself to wearable infotainment. Apple has recently hired top executives from Sano Intelligence, Proteus Digital, C8Medisensors and Senseonics, and although despite much speculation it has yet to officially announce a product in the medical/healthcare sector of wearable electronics.
However, apps and services will still matter even in wearable electronics. Nowadays apps may consist of hardware modules in wearable technology such as changing links in wristwear. In this we have gone full circle back to the hardwired logic of the first computers 70 years ago. We can even make disposable printed electronics in trillions, each with a different circuit (identity, function) if need be. Goodbye programming? Well not entirely but certainly "here comes modularity".