How will consumer expectations drive development decisions for wearable products? In today’s world, most people expect a smartphone experience on anything that has a display, regardless of its shape or size. Packed into compact, lightweight form factors, the challenge will be in delivering rich, intuitive experiences while meeting demanding and emerging use cases for longer battery life and connectivity.
Due to significant consumer demand and expanding use cases, the wearables market is projected to grow from nearly $37.10 billion in 2020 to $104.39 billion by 2027 . Advances in sensors, materials science and cloud computing are fueling the next generation of wearables and personal devices, and propelling growth into adjacent healthcare and industrial applications.
Understanding the Wearables Market
The “wearables” term has evolved significantly over time. Traditional wearables were devices that were worn on the body, like fitness trackers, headphones and smartwatches, but demand from non-consumer sectors has expanded the definition to include any portable device we interact with. In the current and future IoT worlds, we’ll see all types of wearable packaging to support and enhance day-to-day things, giving the end-user information and control over their health, location and jobs.
There are broad use cases for wearables that will continue to grow and challenge OEM product teams to deliver increased capabilities and functionality. We’re seeing non-traditional wearable developers enter the market, from retail to healthcare to industrial. They see wearables and personal devices as an opportunity to deliver value as close to the end user as possible, like providing seniors easier access to 911 emergency services and giving parents geolocation information about their children.
With the COVID-19 pandemic changing how we physically interact, we’ve received more requests to use NXP products for developing wearable technology that ensures proper social distancing and contact tracing. In addition, medical device manufacturers have begun to see personal devices as an enabling technology to manage the care and well-being of patients as the world is continuing to navigate the challenges resulting from the pandemic, like collected health data, such as heart rate, sleep monitor information and other important data that would be useful for teledoc appointments. By combining geolocation and connectivity solutions like Bluetooth Low Energy® (BLE) or ultra-wideband (UWB), these devices can also help manage safe distances in retail shops or the workplace – giving users feedback through haptics or visual indicators on their screens.
Trend #1: Longer Battery Life
Our number one request when it comes to selecting a product is battery life. One of the first things we as consumers look for when purchasing a wearable device is how long it will last between charges. This expectation is now measured in weeks, not days! Case in point: Not only do we dislike the chore of remembering to plug in our devices every night, we also don’t want to worry about the battery when going about our day. This puts the onus on OEMs to build products that will last longer while packing significant functionality to address 24/7 use cases.
Trend #2: Intuitive User Experiences
Wearables developers are expected to deliver vivid and intuitive graphics experiences similar to what consumers expect from their smartphones. Accomplishing this task comes down to having the right assets that are optimized for the device, such as high-resolution images, smooth animations and an ecosystem of hardware and software tools that work together to deliver mobile processor capabilities inside a low-power and cost-effective microcontroller.
With the help of a product with a 2D GPU, such as the i.MX RT500 crossover MCU, specifically made for wearables, in conjunction with an NXP ecosystem partner like Crank Software, allows OEMs to easily design and deliver products that have rich graphical experiences without sacrificing battery life. Frameworks like Crank’s Storyboard give you the ability to prototype and build vivid, graphical UX quickly, and help you rapidly deploy and validate on target hardware.
For more on wearable application development using low-power devices, read Crank’s blog on software best practices.
Trend #3: Always Connected
Another expectation carried over from smartphones is the requirement of always being on—24/7 connectivity. Having different means of fast, cost-effective communications onboard the wearable is a must, whether it’s BLE, Bluetooth classic, Wi-Fi or the growing trend of devices with low-power LTE radios.
The NXP portfolio has the flexibility in-house or from ecosystem partners for radio options to support the multiple goals of wearable manufacturers.
Trend #4: Smaller Form Factors
Whether it's an end-user that wants their wearable device to feel nonexistent or someone who requires hands-free operation and unobstructed personal space, OEMs are relying on more sophisticated hardware integration to reduce product form factors. This has an impact on the feature set, as you can only go so small given screen and battery size, and the potential for peripherals like microphones, speakers and sensors.
Addressing the Trends with Optimized Processing
When it comes to designing wearable products, the tradeoffs between features, power, connectivity and user experience are tied closely together. For power consumption, it could be the competing needs of best dynamic power range versus the least amount of leakage. With UX, it could be the choice of running animations at 60 frames per second versus 24. How can you deliver the best possible experience and the longest battery life without driving the price point up and compromising on features?
Our recommendation is to adopt platforms and ecosystems that are built to make these choices easier and scale over time. A product such as the i.MX RT500 MCU has a flexible architecture to suit any wearables purpose and execute workloads with optimal power efficiency, including:
- An Arm® Cortex®-M33 core to drive applications, with up to 5 MB on-chip SRAM to store and execute code, data and assets with fast access times
- A secondary Cadence® Tensilica® Fusion F1 DSP core for complementary use cases such as audio playback and voice processing or sensor fusion
- A 2D GPU to avoid burning the main core’s horsepower for complex graphics rendering
- Configurable connectivity options that support different radios, from BLE to Cat-M LTE
- Rich peripheral integration, including USB, DMICs
- Advanced security including self-provisioning, a cryptographic engine in addition to on-the-fly external memory decryption
- Tiny packages with both WLCSP and FOWLP package options
The key to wearable products is selecting hardware that offers built-for-purpose tools to make design tradeoffs easier and minimize the power wastage that comes with using less-efficient components.
Looking to the Future
Building upon today’s wearable technology trends we see the need to incorporate more functionality onto the hardware in the next few years. As we (users) expect more, OEM requirements will go beyond GPUs and connectivity and towards larger memory sizes, machine learning and integrated sensor hubs that pull and crunch data from different sources in a very low-power state. This includes an evolution from monolithic solutions into packaged tech stacks, combining different processing, connectivity and memory components onto tiny form factor, single device solutions.
The wearables market continues to drive a massive convergence of different IP, as demand for all these pieces must be satisfied with smaller packages and longer battery life. The OEMs that succeed will be the ones that take advantage of flexible hardware and ecosystem options to deliver vivid UX and maximum battery life.
To learn more about NXP solutions for wearables, visit www.nxp.com/Wearables. As well, we invite you to join our upcoming webinar with Crank on June 3: Easily create an exceptional wearable UX with Crank Storyboard 7.0 and NXP low-power i.MX RT500 MCUs.