Here’s why wrist-worn wearables thrive in the healthcare market

Over the past decade, smartphones have been the locus of portable device technology. However, the market has switched parts of its interest to wearable technology, which makes for a smarter living style. Leading tech companies have been making moves to develop smart wearable devices, with Google’s purchase of Fitbit and Apple’s upgrade of its Apple Watch Series and Airpods. Chinese companies Huami, Xiaomi and Huawei, are highly devoted to the wearable technology sector as well. Hand-free smart wearable technology is driving the market forward.

Wearable technologies refer to smart products that are attached to the body such as glasses, watches, wrist bands and other devices. According to the history of wearable technology, modern smart wearable devices can be traced back to the late 20th century. Calculator wristbands and Bluetooth headsets entered into the mainstream in the early 2000s. The boost of wearable technologies in the most recent decade began with the release of Google Glass. 2014 was regarded as “the year of wearable technology” by some media outlets, after Apple rolled out its smartwatch and fitness trackers became popular, such as the Mi Band manufactured by Huami (NYSE:HMI).

Wrist-worn wearables and earwears are the most popular wearable technologies today. The early editions of the smartwatch lacked the same number of functionalities as smartphones, making it less competitive in the market. Nevertheless, continuous upgrades have advanced the smartwatch into a multi-functional wearable device, enabling it to make phone calls, use GPS, listen to music, board public transportation and make e-payments. More importantly, the development of fitness and healthcare technologies creates a new capacity for wearable smart devices to monitor and track the wearer’s physical state.

A new generation of wearable technology is approaching. Research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), reports that the worldwide wearables market topped 300M units of shipment in 2019, up 71.4% from 178M units in 2018. The wearable devices market is anticipated to ship 489M in total volume in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.4%, according to IDC.

IDC forecasts “continued end-user demand, proliferation of devices and declining average selling price” will fuel an upward growth trajectory for the wearables market. The strong growth in the worldwide wearables market is primarily led by wristbands, smartwatches and earwear. Wrist-worn fitness trackers maintain their popularity ahead of other wearable devices thanks to low prices, while smartwatches are experiencing surging growth and have the potential to branch out into other functional domains, such as kids-focused, sports-focused and health-focused domains.

Health- and fitness-focused smartwatches are the future of smart wrist-worn wearables. Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables team, thinks smartwatches will go deeper into the health and fitness functions and integrate with multiple applications and systems. From the earliest function of counting steps, wrist-worn wearables have continued to expand the possibilities for tracking physical fitness. Wrist-worn wearable technology later developed features to calculate calories burnt, monitor users’ sleep quality and heart rate, and even taking an electrocardiogram (ECG).

ECG-enabled smartwatches were identified as one of 10 major breakthrough technologies in 2019 by MIT Technology Review. Huami, the leading wearables device maker, released a new model of the Amazfit smartwatch last June, enabling users to take an electrocardiogram. In fact, Huami was the first to launch ECG-enabled wristbands as early as 2017 with the release of the Amazfit Healthband. ECG features included in Huami’s smart wearables are cleared by the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). Meanwhile Apple has updated an ECG-enabled health-monitoring tool in its own WatchOS, which has received FDA clearance in the U.S. and qualified for a CE mark in Europe.

Huami now is one of the leaders in the global wearable devices market, having shipped 100 million units worldwide as of last August. The company started by producing the Mi Band, which would become one of the most popular wristbands on market. Huami’s follow-up product, the Mi Band 2, has shipped more than 30 million units worldwide. In a bid to strengthen and diversify its brand, Huami launched its own Amazfit series of smart wearables. 

Huami has set the long-term goal of establishing a global healthcare ecosystem by developing innovative health and fitness wearable products. After all, the global healthcare market will be worth more than USD 10 trillion by 2022. The company’s innovation connects the smart electrical gadget with end-user demand and the healthcare industry. With Huami’s wearable technology, users can keep track of their biometric data and better care for their health.

At CES in Las Vegas in January, Huami updated its Amazfit smartwatch series and rolled out Amazfit wireless earbuds, which focus on sports and healthcare functions. In recognition of the company’s innovations in wearable technology, Huami won IDG’s “the Most Noteworthy Smart Wearable Innovation Enterprise” award for its leadership in healthcare wearables. Its newly released Amazfit PowerBuds was awarded “the Best TWS Fitness Earphones” from IDG.

Leading in the industry as a smart wearables provider, Huami is on the frontier of “Device + Chip + Cloud Services” capabilities in its healthcare wearable products. The company is currently developing a big data healthcare platform which will establish a real-time decision-making application to help users better track their physical health. Huami’s smart wearables can continuously monitor human biometrics 24/7 and its Amazfit smartwatch is able to warn users of signs of heart disease through health functions including electrogastrography (EGG) and phonocardiogram (PCG) analysis, the company said.

In addition to adding fitness and healthcare functions to wearable technology, wearable devices will also grow in popularity as a payment method, according to Technavio, a technology research company. While Apple Pay is available on Apple Watch, Alipay is accessible on Huami’s Amazfit since Alipay is one of the dominant online payment platforms in the increasingly cash-free market of China.

In conclusion, the wearables market is expected to continue to surge for the foreseeable future. The market will continue to innovate in ear-wear, wrist-worn devices and smart home products. In 2023, as IDC forecasts, earwear devices will nearly double its 2019 shipment volume while smartwatches will exceed USD 100M units of shipment. Innovating the use and functions of wearable products, wearable technology is defining a new style of modern smart living.

(Top photos from Huami and Apple’s websites)

Simin Li

Simin writes for us, by focusing on tech and financing news in Asia. She’s also interested in politics, cyber culture, and new media. She has experiences contributing to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal Chinese Edition. She is studying English Language and Literature at Renmin University of China.

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