Deep Dive - Wearable Tech in 2019

Wearable technology has it origins in the 1500 when the German inventor Peter Henlein created small watches that were worn as a necklace.

This evolved into the pocket watch and then into the wristwatch, which was invested by Alberto Santos-Dumont who wanted to be able to look at the time without taking his hands off the controls of his airplane.

The “modern era” of wearable technology was launched by Fitbit which launched its first fitness tracker in 2009. In April 2013, Google rolled out their beta of Google Glass. This was followed by the launch Samsung Gear later in the year. With both Google and Samsung in the space, the number of devices and applications started to proliferate quickly.

In January of 2014, wearable technology was one of the dominant new technologies at the Consumer Electronics Show. There were smart watches, many different activity trackers, smart glasses, and even ear-buds. But all of these products were limited by their processing power and battery life. Since 2014, we have seen accelerating improvements in the core technology.

At CES this year, once again, there were an incredible array of wearables. I want to focus on two (2) major trends in wearables for 2019 and beyond.

Fitness Tech Evolves into Health Tech.

Starting with Fitbit, we have seen an endless array of fitness trackers. They count our steps, how many flights of stairs we climbed. They monitored our heart rate. Combined with a mobile app, these devices helped us track our activity and enter the amount of food we consumed. While this was nice, it didn’t address many of the serious health issues that needed more advanced monitoring. The next generation of sensor has changed that. Here are some examples of the next generation of wearable health technology:

  • Nanit Breathing Wear and Overhead Crib Monitor. This combination of a wearable device embedded in a blanked and an overhead camera gives parents and understanding of their baby’s sleep and breathing patterns. And, if the baby stops breathing (as happens in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome “SIDS”) an alert is sent in real-time to the parent’s phone. It is too soon to tell if this will actually reduce or prevent death from SIDS, but it is an interesting application of these new technologies.

  • Withings (formerly Nokia Health) Move ECG. While the Apple Watch 4 was the first wearable to take an electrocardiogram (“ECG”), at $400, it was not especially affordable. Withings has updated it’s Move Smartwatch to include ECG functionality. It can montitor your heart for signs of Atrial Fibrillation (“Afib”), a type of irregular heart rhythm that poses a high risk of stroke. Having an ECG where you can capture data at any moment reduces the chances of AFib going undiagnosed. It can export the ECG data to your doctor. It will cost $130 which makes it much more affordable than the Apple Watch.

Look for more wearables that that offer real-time glucose monitoring in 2019.

AR/VR Headsets Mature

AR/VR Headsets are among the most complex wearables on the market. Microsoft and Facebook/Oculus are all set to ship new headsets in 2019. But that is only part of the story. There is an emerging set of enterprise AR focused headsets.

  • Microsoft HoloLens “Sydney.” Microsoft’s first iteration of the HoloLens was typical of first-generation Microsoft products. It was functional, but Microsoft never expected it to own the market. Most V1 Microsoft products are meant to gain user feedback on what features matter. V1 of the HoloLens did this. Microsoft opted to skip what would normally be considered a V2 of the headset and never shipped it to market. They opted instead to go straight to what would be considered V3. The product is code-named “Sydney.” Industry watchers believe it will ship as early as Q1 of 2019. This version of the product will be lighter, more comfortable to wear and cost significantly less than the previous version.

  • Oculus “Quest.” The Oculus Quest is a completely stand-alone VR headset. It offers true wireless motion-controlled gaming in a standalone device, complete with six degrees of freedom. There are no sensors or strings trailing out of the headset, instead using "inside-out" tracking to tell how players are moving.

  • “Vuzix Blade.” The Blade is a monocular display which look like regular sunglasses until you get up close. Vuzix is known for its popular enterprise monocular microdisplay, the M-300. It fits on anything including hard hats. It's ideal for what developers call "assisted reality," meaning instructions and remote experts.

  • Focals by North. Focals should probably be considered smart glasses more than an AR/VR headset. Focals connect to your phone via Bluetooth and have a small projector that beams data into the wearer's eyes. They can tell the wearer the weather or time, read text messages and even order an Uber. The glasses are also connected to Alexa, so if you can ask them for directions or information, a small speaker will tell you the answers. However, because they are connected to your phone, it is safe to assume that developers will start to leverage things like the GPS on the phone to offer Augmented Realty-type applications.

Given the emerging array of sensors and the growing processor power and battery life, what would you build?