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Wearable electronics: The next must-have fashion accessory

21 January 2014 Shane Walker

Smart watches and Google Glass have created speculation about a boom market in wearable electronics. While high-profile consumer products are expected to be a significant driver, IHS research suggests that medical and industrial applications will play an equally important role in driving the global wearables market to top $30 billion by 2018, up from $10 billion today.

Wearables moved from comic-book fantasy to mundane reality in the past decade thanks to multisensor combination packages and the low-power wireless chips that support them. The convergence of these technologies has sparked the creativity of product developers, who have raced to market with performance monitors such as wrist-worn sports computers, heart-rate monitors, hearing aids, insulin-pump governors, and Bluetooth headsets.

The array of mobile-focused wearables will continue to expand as Nike and other top names in the existing sector push the boundaries of technological feasibility and fashion. Wearables have become an integral part of the lives of millions of users, enabling them to use their smartphones to do everything from tracking running distances to recording strength-training sessions to monitor heart rates. An IHS consumer survey reveals strong interest from respondents in purchasing wearable sports hardware that enhances the functionality of their software.

In the medium term, though, the real action in wearables will take place far from the social, gaming, and infotainment realms. A raft of health, wellness, and medical applications will be coming online soon-expanding the healthcare market beyond hearing aids and pacemakers to controllable medication disbursement-that promise to cut treatment side effects and boost patient outcomes. Other soon-to-come medical applications will include implantable microsystems and the further miniaturization of displays, which will enable, for example, contact lenses that generate images while treating glaucoma or improving eyesight.

And that is just a taste of things to come. Within the next few years, expect a range of wearables with business applications; for example, large companies could use enterprise wearables to network dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of employees.

Shane Walker Associate Director, digital health research, IHS Technology.

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