Upstart entrepreneurs and major manufacturers such as Samsung,
Gadgets that you snap, buckle or fasten to your body are already marketed to fitness freaks obsessed with tracking every possible metric their bodies produce. There are countless smartwatches for tech nerds who'd rather glance at their wrists to check messages than reach for their smartphones. And thousands of people are already seeing the world differently with the help of the Internet-connected eyewear, Google Glass.
Even with the possibilities these devices offer today, gadget lovers can expect technology companies to stretch the wearable concept further this week in
Several companies are expected to unveil wearable devices that are easier to use, extend battery life, and tap into the power of gestures, social networks and cloud computing.
The wearables wave is still in its early phases. Many of the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future —not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer.
These new gadgets are "like the first generation of the iPod," says
Industry analysts' estimates for the growth of wearables are rosy. Research firm IHS says the global wearables market — which also includes health products like hearing aids and heart-rate monitors — could top
While some of the growth will come from an aging population that requires more health-related monitoring at home, devices like the Fitbit Force activity band — which tracks a wearer's steps, calories burned, sleeping patterns and progress toward fitness goals — are also expected to gain popularity as deskbound workers look for new ways to watch their waistlines.
At this week's show, companies are likely to introduce improvements in wearable screens and battery life, says
"With wearable technology, it's all about battery consumption," Walker says.
What's driving the boom in wearable device innovation is the recent widespread availability of inexpensive sensors known as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). These are tiny components like accelerometers and gyroscopes that, for instance, make it possible for smartphones to respond to shaking and for tablets to double as steering wheels in video games.
There are also sensors that respond to pressure, temperature and even blood sugar.
"We've seen this shift away from traditional computers to mobile devices," Lake says. "Our belief is that trend will continue and we'll merge closer with technology and computers. New computer-human interfaces are what can drive these changes."
Wearables may not gain broad acceptance until sensors advance to a point where they can track more sophisticated bodily functions than heart rate, says
"If you can monitor your blood chemistry with a wearable, now there we're talking about something pretty compelling," Samueli says. "Then I think the market will take off in a big way."
Companies are also expected to tweak the business models for wearable gadgetry as the devices become more mainstream. Fitness-focused wearables could one day help lower your health-care premiums if your insurer can verify your exercise regime. Always-on wristbands that know who you're with —and their preferences— could become vehicles for location-based restaurant advertising.
"I think you're going to see a lot of maturity in 2014 in the way companies think about their business," says J.P. Gownder, an analyst with
Right now, the market is a swirling cauldron of ideas and products. Eventually, a winner may emerge.
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