The wearables market in 2017 experienced some major consolidation with companies like Jawbone going under, Intel closing its wearables unit, and Fitbit having to restructure and move from fitness toward health. At CES, there were still some companies like Fossil and Casio that seemed to be bullish about smart watches, although the craze for smart watches seems to have gone through the peak of the hype cycle. Qualcomm continues to support the wearables market and is seeing most of its traction come from Asia where niche categories like kids’ smart watches and elderly trackers are no longer niche. The question is how long Qualcomm will continue to support its wearables division; at some point, the Asian enthusiasm for smart watches will ebb and then Qualcomm is likely to remain a market leader in a shrinking market that will see Apple as the dominant player with the rest being squeezed out. The answer to that question might be as and when we see wearables successfully move from being a fitness device to a health device, as suggested in our 2017 wearable forecasts. Apple and Fitbit seem to have read the memo, but the rest of the market is still catching up to them.
Sleep technology was the big revelation at CES 2018 as far as health and wearables are concerned, and a plethora of companies were offering sleep tracking and sleep management solutions. While sleep is a pertinent problem and needs good solutions, most of the technology showcased at the show fell short being convincing that sleep will replace fitness as the new mantra for wearables and health tech.
The things to watch out for are neural interfaces and genetic kits in the health and wearables section. Electroencephalogram (EEG) headband maker Muse had some interesting showcases of its headband being used in conjunction with virtual reality (VR) to control the gaming experience with the mind. Muse has also been able to integrate its technology into a glasses form factor, which could lead to interesting explorations like the real-time and continuous tracking of stress in the workplace. Another company, Brain Corp, is aiming to expand the use of EEG headbands in education and is already known to have traction in China. The idea that students wear headbands in class and have the teacher and the school constantly monitor their attention, does not sound like a very appealing education system. Other than that, Brain Corp had a cool demo of being able to control Sawyer the robot using brain waves alone! Although Brain Corp did not have any immediate plans for selling this as a solution to manufacturing companies, and was more meant as a crowd puller, it does provide a glimpse of brain interfaces could be used for controlling robots in the future.
Nissan also showcased the use of neural interfaces in future driving. In this case, an EEG headband assists with safety and predicts if a driver is about to make a mistake, essentially taking over control or self-correcting the acceleration and braking. While this is very interesting, it is hard to envision anyone wearing a clunky headband while driving!
One last thing, one company of note in the wearables and health technology area was Orig3n. It is in the same league as 23andMe in terms of providing genetic deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing, but it has micro categories for which you can be tested, ranging from “Superhero” and “Beauty” to “Hair” and “Alcohol Tolerance.” This seemed like a scene out of Black Mirror on Netflix with humans being graded on multiple levels based on their DNA. This was a vision of the Big Brother future where all human capabilities are scaled, ranked, and measured by using DNA, only in this case, it is for real. The one concern to be aware of if you do any of these tests is data privacy.