The Present and Future of Wearables

Wearable providers should create closer links between users, the ecosystem, and services.

While consumers might appreciate the convenience of wearables, they also offer valuable insight into our health and how we spend our time. Wearables are enabling consumers to move beyond apps towards more sophisticated virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and provide new immersive entertainment experiences through augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).

With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2017 just weeks away, Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner, shared her insight on the present and future of wearables.

Q: How are wearables changing how we live?

A: Wearables offer convenience. You can be completely hands-free with a Bluetooth headset or smartwatch and not need to carry your mobile phone around the house to communicate with your VPA or receive alerts. You can be away from a VPA-enabled wireless speaker (such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home) and still access its capabilities, for example to choose music, control the connected home, or make an online purchase, with voice as a key interface to the technology.

The abandonment rate of smartwatches is 29% and 30% for fitness trackers because people do not find them useful, they get bored with them, or they break. Dropout (no longer using the device) and adoption slowdown are serious problems for the industry.

Fitness trackers have created new communities among like-minded users based on common fitness goals and interests, which also inspires them to be more active. The device itself may only be motivating in the short term — encouragement from social support communities, wellness programs, and healthcare apps that use data from the devices are key to generating long-term use.

Wellness programs through health insurance companies and enterprises use fitness trackers to motivate members and employees to live a healthy lifestyle through incentive programs. We predict that by 2017, 70% of multinational corporations will sponsor the use of wearable fitness-tracking devices.

Q: Employing machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) offers enterprises the opportunity to give customers an improved experience at every point of interaction. How are cognitive technologies being incorporated into wearables?

A: Cognitive technology helps increase the usability and accuracy of a wearable device. Voice interaction with natural language speech recognition adds flexibility for the user. For fitness trackers, cognitive technologies can help the user and developers understand how data accuracy depends on the type of exercise and the surroundings. For example, Apple is working on quantifying how the body responds to exercise in different types of environments, including extreme temperatures and different elevation.

Q: Where are the greatest opportunities for wearables?

A: Consumers: Gartner predicts that over the next 12 months, a majority of fitness-tracker buyers in North America and Western Europe will have already owned a device, and there will be fewer first-time buyers. Device providers should selectively expand efforts to grow their brands in major cities in countries like China and India, and tailor designs and software to local preferences.

According to our recent consumer survey, the abandonment rate of smartwatches is 29% and 30% for fitness trackers because people do not find them useful, they get bored with them, or they break. Dropout (no longer using the device) and adoption slowdown are serious problems for the industry.

Device providers need to add capabilities to fitness trackers and smartwatches, giving people more ways to use them without reaching for the smartphone. These include payments, voice interaction with VPAs, and authentication.

Healthcare: In the long term, there is great opportunity for wearables in the healthcare industry. I see wearables increasing proactive healthcare measures by creating efficiencies in how we monitor our own health, and how we communicate our health status to healthcare providers.

Wearables and AI may be able to identity health issues sooner. For example, a wearable electrocardiogram device can track arrhythmias. Pilot programs in hospitals have demonstrated that wearables like heart monitors in biosensor patches enable healthcare providers to track the recovery of patients, potentially reducing the number of readmissions. Patients can easily monitor and send vital signs and sleep and exercise patterns to be included in electronic health records or clinical studies. Over time, medical science will better understand the effect of lifestyle choices on the health populations.

Enterprise: More enterprises will start using wearables to enhance employees’ performance, especially for those who work in the field. A field technician can wear a pair of smartglasses to share a video of what he or she is observing. New employees can learn faster because they can communicate what they are seeing in real time to a colleague elsewhere and solve a problem faster and with less travel expense.

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Client Research
Gartner clients can read more about the present and future of wearables in in the research reports, User Survey Analysis: Wearables Need to Be More Useful and Top Strategic Predictions for 2017 and Beyond: Surviving the Storm Winds of Digital Disruption.

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