Even with its healthy set of skeptics and critics, divided on everything from usefulness to privacy, wearables is widely projected to be the biggest thing in mobile since the smartphone. ABI Research expects 90 million wearables, predominantly for fitness tracking and healthcare, to ship globally this year, and IDC predicts sales to reach 112 million by 2018. A new report from Goode Intelligence forecasts that there will be 5.5 billion users of mobile and biometric technology wearables around the world by 2019.
Current challenges aside, the market opportunity is filled with promise for countless industries and suppliers – and the biggest players in mobile are vying to design the consumer’s next must-have device, achieving the perfect balance of engineering, style, price and utility. Everything from smartwatches and smartglasses to fitness trackers and health monitors are helping to fuel consumer interest and demand. NFC has played a vital role in this growing trend by simplifying device pairing and enabling easy Internet access and data transfers.
As one writer at Wired offers, “A new device revolution is at hand: Just as mobile phones and tablets displaced the once-dominant PC, so wearable devices are poised to push smartphones aside.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I agree that smartphones have absolutely helped pave the way for this next generation of computing. Hardware costs are down, innovation is up and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are leveling the playing field. John McLear’s successful NFC Ring is a great recent example proving that anyone with a great idea has the potential to compete with the leaders in this space.
Google Glass, Android Wear, Fitbit Flex and Sony’s SmartWatch are just a few examples of technologies breaking new ground. Beyond entertainment and consumer interests, fitness trackers and health monitors offer big opportunities for businesses to improve employee safety and productivity, and for healthcare providers to offer increased connectivity and a much deeper look and accessibility to key health insights.
Don Norman, a cognitive science professor and designer, suggests that the real usefulness of wearables will depend on how users choose to use them. As with other digital devices, users must decide “whether we use them to focus and augment our activities or to distract. It is up to us, and up to those who create these new wearable wonders, to decide which it is to be.”
NFC will continue to be a key enabling technology as the wearables market grows. As more consumers become accustomed to NFC’s intuitive touch-and-go interface, they will want to perform more and more actions with a quick tap of their devices – including wearables. And since wearables have limited power supplies and stringent size constraints, it makes sense that NFC’s very low power consumption and small size factor are a complementary fit, particularly as consumers seek ever-smaller, longer-running devices. Solutions providers and application developers across industries must be prepared to satisfy all these consumer and market needs.
The NFC Forum will continue to pursue opportunities in this exciting space, and work to help streamline the development path for industries and markets seeking to tap into the many benefits of NFC. The more we collaborate, the more consumers will benefit from NFC’s far-reaching impact on wearables.