Wearable Tech World Feature Article
October 17, 2014

Market for Wearable Sensors Expected to See Sevenfold Increase by 2019

Most people who look at an object only see the face of the device. When you think about it, most people are not concerned with the way something works as long as it accomplishes its task. I fall into the group of people who like to take things apart, see what makes them tick and then put all the pieces back together again. This has given me insight on how to fix just about anything.

A lot of people are wearing fitness bands and monitoring devices to assist in their daily workouts, or keep track of their vital signs to find ways to increase wellbeing. We are seeing more and more wearable devices coming to the market every day that accomplish this task. However, most people do not realize all the different components that go into what looks like a simple device that one either wears on one’s wrist or clip to a piece of clothing.

As small as these wearable devices are, there is a lot packed into them. The thing that makes monitoring devices such as these useful is all the sensors that are incorporated. If we just take a Plantronics headset as an example, some models have sensors that know when you place it over your ear and initiate a call. Some models have GPS and altimeters that can pinpoint your location and whether you are standing up or sitting down.

Devices like this are effective due to all of the sensors that are used. According to a new IHS Tehcnology report entitled “MEMS & Sensors for Wearables Report – 2014,” shipments of sensors used in wearable electronic devices can expect to see a growth rate by a factor of seven within the next five years. Mostly this increase will be driven by the demand for health and fitness monitoring devices. In the past, several devices were needed to monitor a specific need, as sensors become smaller and technology improves, multiple sensors can be included in a smaller device.

Jérémie Bouchaud, who is the director and senior principal analyst, MEMS & Sensors, at IHS, made the following comments, “Wearables are a hotbed for sensors, with market growth driven by the increasing number of these components in each product sold. The main factor propelling this phenomenon is a transition in market share away from simple products like pedometers and toward more sophisticated multipurpose devices such as smartwatches and smart glasses. Instead of using a single sensor like the simpler devices, the more complex products employ numerous components for health and activity monitoring, as well as for their more advanced user interfaces.”

Not surprising, motion sensors will have the biggest impact on wearable devices. This group includes accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), pressure sensors and combo motion sensors. MEMS sensors for user interfaces include MEMS microphones, proximity sensors and MEMS displays. Health and fitness monitors include pulse-oximeters, hydration and skin temperature sensors, while environmental sensors include humidity, temperature and ultraviolet components.

According to the IHS report, the worldwide market for sensors in wearables will expand from last year’s 67 million units to 466 million units in 2019. Considering that one wearable device will most likely have a variety of sensors, we will see that shipments of sensors will climb much more quickly than the market for the wearable devices themselves. Wearable devices will increase to 135 million units in 2019, which is less than three times the total of 50 million in 2013.

Bouchaud went on to say, “The use of these types of sensors reflects consumer preferences that are propelling the growth of the wearables market. Users want health and fitness monitoring and they want wearable devices that act as extensions of their smartphones. However, there’s no real demand from consumers for environmental sensors. Instead, the rising adoption of environmental sensors such as humidity and UV devices is being pushed by both sensor suppliers and wearable original equipment manufacturers (OEM).”

It seems that smartwatches will play a large role in increasing the shipment of sensor units. IHS used Apple as an example stating that the iWatch not only employs an accelerometer, but also a gyroscope, a microphone and a pulse sensor. Bouchaud said, “Similar to the iPhone and iPad, IHS expects the Apple Watch will set a de facto standard for sensor specifications in smartwatches. Most other wearable OEMs will follow Apple’s lead in using these four devices—or will add even more sensors to differentiate.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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