2021 Trends in Wearable Devices and Wearable Application Development

Frank Zinghini

Founder & CEO

Wearable technology innovations have the potential to significantly enhance medical services, the safety of vulnerable populations, athletic performance, consumer research, and many other applications. 

Wearables have become much more than a glitzy fashion accessory with a narrow consumer target market—this technology is being used increasingly for the good on an individual and collective basis. 

For example, wearable devices can record our individual circadian rhythms to improve sleep. They can monitor our heart rates and remind us to hydrate, take movement breaks, and more. 

Wearable technology has collective benefits as well. For example, a small, wearable, stick-on device allows medical professionals and physicians to monitor Ebola patients’ vitals remotely. This is extremely promising, considering the risks that come with exposure to this virus. 

Wearable technology saves lives. The ECG technology embedded in assistive wearable solutions such as AliveCor’s KardiaBand can be used to predict heart attacks in individuals. 

Recently, the fall detection feature in the Apple watch saved a couple hiking in the woods when they fell off a cliff. The Apple watch detected the fall and alerted authorities and automatically texted an emergency contact stored in the phone. The rescue team was able to use the location data from the Apple watch to find and rescue the couple.  

Because of its potential benefits, wearable technology is an expanding market. Developers, businesses, and entrepreneurs need to readily embrace the changes that wearable technology development will bring to app development and the broader scope of how it will impact the global economy. The ability to understand and leverage this new landscape will become only increasingly essential to the success of many businesses. 

What is Wearable Technology?

Wearable technology is a general term for electronic devices consumers wear on their bodies. It is often incorporated into clothing or other wearable items, such as watches, glasses, and jewelry. These devices are often called wearables for short. Examples include fitness trackers and smartwatches. 

A wearable app is the software that corresponds with a wearable device, usually accessible from a smartphone or other mobile device. The app exchanges data with a wearable device to perform tasks such as measuring body functions, tracking movement, organizing tasks, providing location-specific information with GPS technology, and many more.  

Market Share Projections for Wearable Technology

Increased interest in personal health combined with Gen-X and Gen-Y widespread adoption of wearables ensures that this market is going nowhere but up. Sales of wearable technology were $28 billion in 2019, and experts expect them to reach $74 billion by 2025. 

North America has historically been the highest contributor to the global wearable technology market. The value of the North America wearable market reached a value of US$ 3.2 Billion in 2020, and it is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.3% between 2021-2026.    

5G promises much faster data transfer speeds and ubiquitous availability for wearable devices on a single network. These promises open avenues of opportunity for wearable app development. New types of wearable technology will increase as access to this bandwidth grows.  

Health and Fitness Will be Big

COVID increased awareness of personal health issues and led to increased consumer demand for ways to track and manage their health. Fitness is a considerable focus in this category. According to the 2021 Quantilope study, fitness apps and wearable devices were the second most commonly owned wearable device and the second most wearable purchase intention category. 

  • Smart Footwear: Smart clothing is expected to expand in the 2021 market. Smart footwear is one smart clothing item that is projected to flood the market soon. Developers can help athletes by incorporating gyroscopes and accelerometers into their footwear. This technology can calculate the foot pitch and roll angle (i.e., the foot orientation angle in the sagittal and frontal plane, respectively). Magnetometers, which also use the inertial measurement unit (IMU), can measure accelerations, angular velocities, and orientation. Smart shoes are also valuable for the non-athletes, as they can calculate daily step amounts, the part of your foot that has the most pressure, as well as caloric burn.  Smart insoles are another area of potential growth. These smart devices use wearable GPS technology to monitor location. They’re ideal for loved ones who tend to wander because of cognitive impairment. 
  • Smart Jewelry: Smart jewelry is already here, but its market will likely expand in 2021. Startups and large companies alike are making wearable smart jewelry. Many of these devices double as pieces of art, made with high-end materials such as stainless steel, leather, and wood. Smart jewelry applications range from fitness tracking, notifications, silent alarms, and— becoming increasingly popular—mindfulness reminders. Examples include the Ōura ring and the BellaBeat. The Ōura app focuses on “Readiness, Sleep, and Activity,” measuring activity and movement during the day and collecting meaningful data on overall health at night. The BellaBeat app offers workout routines, guided meditations, beauty recipes, and nutrition plans.

Near Field Communication Technologies (NFC)  

People can already make payments with their smartwatches. This has been very useful during the pandemic, since they allow wearers to do contactless payment. Thus smartwatch app development in this area will continue to expand in 2021. A 2020 research report predicts that the global contactless payment market will grow from $10.3 billion in 2020 to $18 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 11.7% during the forecast period. 

Near Field Communication Technologies (NFC), which enables contactless payments, will continue to be integrated into wearable technology. NFC is most commonly used to connect wearable technology with assets like credit cards, debit cards, and prepaid cards. NFC allows consumers to scan their wearable device in front of the terminal and transact instantly in areas with wireless access. 

When developers incorporate NFC into a wearable devices app, they enable users to pay directly from their wearable device instead of their smartphones. But the advantages of NFC wearables don’t stop there. Wearable NFC bands can potentially improve and facilitate public health services to curb the virus’s spread. For example, Silicon Craft Technology PLC (SICT) incorporated NFC into their wearable band. This helped the Center for Disease Control track COVID-19 patients, as well as people who had been exposed and were in self-quarantine. 

Smarter smartwatches

Currently, most smartwatches are auxiliary supportive devices to the primary mobile device (i.e., smartphone). However, smartwatches are expected to become a lot more sophisticated. They might even replace the need for a smartphone altogether. Consumers will likely expect smartwatches to expand beyond providing just health data. 

Demographics seem to be in play here. The Millennial generation has adopted smartwatches wholeheartedly. Projections predict that the demand for smartwatches will increase for older people as well, especially as developers add health-monitoring features and other relevant features such as fall detection and sleep apnea monitoring. 

Improved GPS Technology

Wearable devices make GPS technology even more agile and widen its application. For example, business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses can use GPS technology to conduct location-based marketing. 

5G will also expand the types of use cases of GPS technology because it will extend density of coverage (geographically) and improve data-transfer rates. For example, many countries developed apps that can locate and alert those persons who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. 5G will increase the geographical area that the app can reach and increase the app’s data-transfer rate. 

Expanded use of Beacon Technology 

Expect innovators to take advantage of the simplicity of beacon technology. Because beacon technology can operate on low-power Bluetooth technology to interact with nearby smart devices, their role in wearable technology is assured. Predictions are that more businesses will integrate beacon technology into wearables. Doing so will enable them to push relevant and location-specific offers and promotions to their target clientele. 

Wearable technology opens avenues for digital marketers since they have the potential to swiftly generate crucial data points such as purchasing patterns or the location of target audiences. This potential is creating an increased demand for wearables to have innovative data collection capabilities. 

Wearables and Their Apps: Made for Humans, by Humans, to Do Human Things

Wearables are taking the market by storm and they are changing the psychology of how we interact with technology. All of these wearables are signs that change is coming: in the way we receive data, use data, and share data. Things are going to get personal. This new psychological paradigm hits at the very core of app development: user interface design. 

It’s one thing to have the idea to track notifications and fitness data within a gemstone ring. Still, a wearable device app development company must take into account the psychology behind how users will interact with the ring interface. If they miss that mark, they risk a failing endeavor. 

Cognitive neuroscience is essential when designing apps and interfaces for wearables. In the context of app and interface design, cognitive neuroscience centers upon the most crucial elements developers need to consider: how a user processes information. 

It’s not the app design itself that differentiates between adoption or abandonment of a new product; it’s the user’s cognitive processes. When people interact with an app and a wearable device that is new to them, they will always use their cognitive processes as a “fallback” mechanism while they figure it out. 

When designing a wearable application, it is best to predict how and when users will fall back onto cognitive processes and the specific processes to which they’ll “fall back.” Developing a user journey by creating mental models is the best way to do this. Google Glass Mini Games is a great example of how mental models play a large role in user engagement with a product. 

As you develop your journey map for your app, remember that technology trends aside, the neuroscience behind app development remains the same. If you focus on understanding how the consumer will relate to the technology in context, you’re on the right path.

The biggest 2021 wearable app trend for wearable app development services? Solve new problems in a human-friendly way.  

Wearable technology is growing exponentially. If your company is ready to enter the wearable technology market, you need a team who can help you develop and implement your wearable apps.