Wearables are going mainstream and still evolving: CES 2022

CES health wearables
Image credit: Consumer Technology Association

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CES 2022 was held in Las Vegas earlier this month – and perhaps no surprise, wearables have become a prominent category at this conference, as they are starting to go mainstream and play an essential role in the lives of both early adopters and average consumers, especially for health applications.

More than 100 health companies exhibited at CES this year, which indicates that wearables are becoming an essential segment in the consumer electronics market. Recent research from IDC shows that global wearables shipments grew 32.3% year-over-year from 2020 to 2021.

Wearable devices are becoming more affordable to all consumers. They are also easier to use, e.g., there is no need to have any sensors under your skin. That said, skin patches are still needed for some measurements, but they can also offer more accurate data.

Abbott has long been one of the leading developers of medical sensors, diagnostic and medical devices. It has been the sensor provider for things like Supersapiens and Levels that can measure blood glucose levels 24/7. At CES 2022, Abbot announced the launch of its own consumer bio-wearable brand Lingo. The name indicates that Lingo products are able to speak the language of your body. The products are based on Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre technology that was originally developed for people living with diabetes.

Abbott said that the Lingo sensors will measure health statistics such as glucose, ketone, lactate, and alcohol levels. The Lingo sensors are put on the back of your arm with medical-grade adhesive and make measurements through a small filament inserted just below the skin. Installing these pads is still more complex for people who use devices that can use light to measure things from the blood. These sensors must also be replaced regularly. There are rumors that the Apple Watch Series 8 would be able to measure glucose as well.

Oura has been the leader in the smart ring market. Some other projects (e.g., on Kickstarter) have come to the market, but we haven’t yet seen any real competition with Oura. This might change soon – Movano Ring is targeting the market now, and announced plans to launch its smart ring in the second half of 2022. It has also applied for US FDA clearance for its tracker, which would make it a certified medical device, as well as one of the first wearables (alongside Apple Watch and Withings) with FDA approval for its features. This also enables wearables data to be used more in healthcare.

From mass-market devices to highly accurate sensors

Movano also claims that it not only measures sleep and activities, but also common health issues like hypertension. The device is also expected to be smaller and less expensive than Oura. We can’t say much more about it until we actually see the product in the market. It is also important to remember that the wearables market is not only about lower prices, but also about platforms and brand business.

Blood pressure is one area where many wearables companies are working now. Hypertension is a vast global health issue, creating a clear opportunity for products to measure and control blood pressure. Chinese firm Zepp Health has announced its smartwatch to measure blood pressure. Swiss company Aktiia has launched a device to measure blood pressure 24/7. Omron has also launched a product in that market.

Another development discussed at CES 2022 is the essential role photonics-based sensors are playing in the wearables market. Sensors that reach multiple dermis layers, probing the skin and interstitial fluid within the dermis non-invasively, enable us to measure heart rate (HR and HRV), core body temperature, hydration, blood pressure, blood oxygen, alcohol, lactate, and glucose. This makes it possible to develop devices that can measure much more body activities without going under the skin, which is mandatory to reach the mass market.

Health sensors also are coming to smart clothing. Siren is developing washable smart socks to monitor diabetes patients for signs of inflammation. Hexoskin has announced a smart shirt with integrated sensors that enables continuous health monitoring of over 42,000 data points per minute, including ECG, heart rate, HRV, HRR, RR intervals, breathing rate, tidal volume, minute ventilation, actigraphy, activity level, and accelerometry during daily activities and sleep.

And we have not only more sensors, but also new ways to visualize the data. Mojo Vision has raised $45 million to adapt its augmented reality contact lenses to work with sports and fitness applications. The company uses Mojo’s innovative contact lens technology, Mojo Lens, to find unique ways to improve access to data and enhance athletes’ performance during sporting activities. According to Mojo Vision, the findings from a recent survey of over 1,300 athletes illustrate that athletes very much rely on wearables data and are expressing a need for different ways to have that data delivered to them.

Software and platforms are still the future

We can see wearables, wellness, and health data are coming to the mainstream. But as I have written earlier, software and platforms will take over this market from sensors and pure device manufacturers sooner or later. We are now seeing a lot of development with sensors and new devices in the market; this paves the way for the platforms, software, and app market for wearables and health data.

We all well know that health data is very sensitive, and data privacy is crucial. Thus, the emerging platform market must be based on high security and user-held data models such as the one developed by Prifina. Nowadays, we can buy dozens of sensors to measure our body; soon we can get platforms to combine all that data and have an open app market to utilize data in our daily lives.

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