Wearable technology is booming. Not many other high-tech segments have polarised more over the last years. Electronic devices worn on or even inside the body have long outgrown their image as part of the IoT and manifested themselves as own segment.
Companies like FitBit and Withings have managed to establish themselves as successful players in the market in just a few years. Regarding activity trackers they are eye-to-eye with huge enterprises like Nike and Adidas that struggle to keep pace with the small and innovative fitness device manufacturers born as startups.
Those success stories inspire us and tons of new startups try to get their share of the wearable market. However designing and marketing small and connected electronic devices is challenging. We dedicated the latest issue of our knowledge magazine “The Quintessence” (TQ) to wearable technology. During conversations with stars of the branch like Nikolaj Hviid, founder and CEO of Bragi, and experts like Bernard Vicens, Director Segment Consumer at EBV, we have been able to identify a number of key challenges which most wearable companies face.
Technology Related Challenges
On the technical side design, hardware and software are tightly affiliated with each other, yet each segment needs special know-how and attention.
Aesthetics of the product often increase the design complexity. Depending on the category of wearable compromising good looks for cost-efficiency might make sense – or not. If you develop a wearable like a smartwatch good design will be a key-selling point whereas the design of smart shoe soles is less important.
Independent of your design the miniaturisation of electronics will be challenging. Integrating sensors, processing capabilities, connectivity and security features in small devices requires advanced engineering skills. During the design you will have to decide if you either use discrete components or systems-on-chip (SoC). Discretes are usually cheaper and offer more flexibility for redesigns than SoCs. However custom designed SoCs offer better integration and can help to shrink the system size.
In addition considering new technologies like printed electronics, wireless charging and E-ink displays can help to simplify and enhance your design significantly. Furthermore semiconductor manufacturers offer more and more chips dedicated to wearable technology. Those new products often integrate a number of functions like microcontrollers, sensors, flash memory, connectivity modules and more.
Careful selection of components is crucial as besides basic functionality you will have to include special requirements of wearables into your design. Fitness trackers for example usually require waterproof sealing; other wearables must withstand high pressure and most importantly all of them need power.
Power management is another key to wearable success as battery life is considered a major feature for most devices. The battery type, the power consumption of your functions, features like sleep mode, charging (wireless vs. wired) as well as energy harvesting capabilities will have a significant impact on your final product.
Another central part of a wearable device is the user interface. As space is limited touch displays are often not feasible. Acoustic and vibration feedback as well as gesture or remote control (e.g. via smartphone) are common solutions. However, whatever solution you come up with it has to be as natural as possible for the user as many smart devices tend to fail because of the inconvenient movements necessary to control them.
For a lot of companies like startups and electronic newcomers sorting out the challenges above is an unbearable task. In order to overcome those challenges and to get access to state of the art hardware and support with the design building a partnership with specialists like EBV can be highly beneficial. In addition semiconductor specialists are able to support you during complex processes like product certification.
Data Is Trump – But Complex
Software and apps will be necessary to enable the functions of your product. Furthermore in most cases you will collect user data in some form. The management of this data needs sophisticated cloud and analytics platforms as well as security precautions. Initial success of a wearable company is dependent on the product however longterm success will need clever usage of data. The user information is the key to new products and offerings.
Software development and data management can be simplified through involvement of third party service providers. Technology specialists like EBV that maintain extensive partner networks are abel to connect businesses to the help they need in order to succeed.
Challenges In The Competitive Wearables Market
In addition to those technical challenges wearables companies further face market-related challenges. The unique idea for your product is the foundation of success in the competitive wearables environment. Only if you are able to solve a specific problem better than others you will make a difference. Concentrate on delivering a few core functions in a great way instead of trying to incorporate every function possible into your device. Only then the user will be able to understand the benefit of your product clearly.
Another consideration is getting access to capital required to finance your idea. For startups crowdfunding can be a good way to get access to money. Platforms like Kickstarter are further a great tool in order to test ideas and get feedback as well as to promote a project. However this comes with some risk as your idea will be exposed to other companies. In addition most of the money you collect will flow into the production of the goods you promise to your backers. Thus you will need further investors.
To put it in a nutshell it is a long way from the initial idea to finished wearable. The challenges don’t end with product development as for example establishing a reliable supply chain will be necessary as soon as your idea takes off. Read the TQ of Wearable Technology here in order to get a 360 degree perspective on the topic and feel free to contact our EBV Consumer folks here to get support with your idea.