When Pankaj Kedia, former Global Business Head of Smart Wearables and Shareables at Qualcomm, joined Round for an event last week, he was sporting seven wearable devices, including an Apple watch that tracks his vitals, a smart shirt that regulates his body temperature, eyeglasses that can stream music, and more. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said, “before every one of us has at least one wearable.” In his presentation, Kedia discussed the evolution of wearable devices over the past decade and shared his predictions for the technology’s future. Here are four key takeaways.
Kedia credits Pebble Technology with creating one of the very first mainstream smart wearables, a watch released in 2013 that could display messages from its owner’s iOS or Android device. Consumers can now don smart tech from head to toe. You might already wear smart apparel, like running shoes with sensors that can offer insights into your form by tracking how your foot strikes the ground. (Over the next five to ten years, Kedia predicts every shoe will become smart.) Or perhaps you rely on a fitness tracker like Fitbit or Garmin to monitor your activity levels and vital signs. Many people like Kedia wear devices like the Oura ring to track and improve sleep. Wearables also include a diversity of products for entertainment experiences, like virtual reality headsets or augmented reality glasses. In 2022, the market size for wearables was estimated at $121B and is expected surpass $392B by 2030.
In 2023, there will be 300 million wearables sold, and Kedia foresees incredible opportunities for companies to create new wearables and reach new users. He highlighted three companies that have developed original applications for wearables, starting with Gabb Technology which creates wearable tech for children. The Gabb watch offers GPS tracking, text messaging and calling but blocks access to the internet and social media — Kedia's six-year-old daughter even wears one, giving him peace of mind as a parent. In healthcare, Oro Muscles is a company working on cutting-edge technology for elite athletes that monitors surface-level muscles and helps prevents injuries. In retail, shipping, and manufacturing, Zebra Technology’s lightweight, wearable computer (which is about the size of a phone and worn around the wrist) allows workers to use a smart device while keeping their hands free.
People don't want to wear conspicuous technology. "If I'm going to wear something 24/7," says Kedia, "it needs to be sleek; it needs to be part of me." But technology constraints, like battery and chip size, get in the way. Over the next ten years, he predicts that batteries will become smaller and more efficient, sensors will get smarter, and connectivity will improve. With these advances, designers can create wearables that look less like "giant nerd billboards" (as one Round member so memorably put it) and more like the analog versions of the clothes, shoes, and accessories we like to wear. Someday soon, Kedia imagines we’ll integrate smart technology into everything we wear. Take eyeglasses, for instance, worn by at least two billion. As people's eyes change, they require new glasses and new prescriptions, but in the future, AI lenses could adapt a user's focus as needed.
As soon as 2028, Kedia says we can expect AI integration with every wearable. For consumers, wearables will shift from tracking (habits, activity levels, vital signs, etc.) to predicting. If, in the past, you used a fitness tracker to assess your runs, a future device might predict the best running route for you to take based on your vital measures or the air quality that day. Headphones will play music based on your mood. Your smartwatch will give you driving directions based on your schedule or predictive traffic patterns. Kedia — who already relies on a device that monitors his vital signs 24/7 — is particularly excited about AI wearables in healthcare. With AI advancements, devices like his can use his biometric information to predict diseases or how his health might change in the future. “If I look at the past decade in wearables, it's already a revolution,” says Kedia, “just imagine what will happen over the next five or 10 years.”
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