Wearables, wearable sensors gain popularity with pandemic, despite 2020 revenue lull

COVID-19 has prompted an explosion of interest in wearable technologies to do everything from detecting oxygen levels in blood from a smartwatch to devices that are used for contact tracing.

The sensors that work inside such wearables are also expected to surge as well in coming years. Wearable sensors are also being used in textiles for clothing and footwear, and offering force, pressure and stretch detection with low power.  Hearables will be increasingly popular.

Even with such long-term growth, there is a slight surprise: some analysts are reporting that revenues for both wearables and wearable sensors are expected to decline slightly in 2020.

According to some analysts, it appears that the market for wearables and for wearable sensors in all of 2020 will decline slightly over 2019 given supply chain disruptions in the second quarter and related factors including price drops for components.

Analysts at IDTechEx recently reported that the wearable technology market brought in $70 billion in revenues in 2019, a number estimated to decline for all of 2020 to $68 billion. The analyst firm told Fierce Electronics that it expects to see several wearable sectors see a year-over-year decline from 2019 due to COVID-19.

wearable revenues chart
Wearables: Revenue over time  (Source: IDTechEx Research)

Set against that overall revenue decline, IDC reported in September that unit shipments of wearable devices globally would increase in 2020 over 2019 by 14%.  IDC sees wearable unit shipments reaching 396 million in 2020, then growing to 631 million in 2024.

For wearable sensors, global annual revenues reached $2.5 billion in 2019 but will slip slightly to $2.4 billion in 2020, IDTechEx said.

The good news is that analysts are expecting 2021 will see a revenue resurgence above 2019 levels in both sensors and overall wearable tech.

For overall wearables, the U.S. market is expected to climb 16% annually from $32 billion in 2019, roughly doubling in 2025, according to Grand View Research.  Wristwear will make up half the U.S. in coming years, but eye, head and body wear will be second-biggest market.

IDTechEx also sees wearable categories on the horizon that impact augmented and virtual reality technology, as well as wearable cameras and smart contact lenses.

Wearable sensors globally will reach $3.1 billion in 2021, IDTechEx said, then soar to $5.3 billion in 2025.  These electronics includes sensors for inertial measurement, including accelerometers, and gyro and compass sensors.

In 2022, IDTechEx predicts $3.8 billion in wearable sensors revenue globally.  The firm said chemical and gas sensors will be the largest segment (about 30%), followed by cameras, optical, microphones, IMU (inertial measurement), electrodes, and GPS. A small portion of revenues will come from temperature sensors and force, pressure and stretch sensors.

“Wearable sensors remain a fundamental enabling component for the entire wearable technology industry, and obtaining a clear understanding of their capability and potential is essential,” IDTechEx recently wrote.

Even with the small decline in 2020 revenues, IDTechEx wrote that the pandemic “has brought additional focus to sensors, including tracking of early onset conditions, facilitation of wearables for contact tracing and remote patient monitoring for patients in isolation. Parallel trends see smartwatches driving towards medical metrics, hearables adding more sophisticated sensor options, skin patches successfully commercializing in new applications and many industrial, military and security applications maturing.”

IDC analyst Ramon Llamas foresees a merging of wearable devices and services that use data from wearables. “Wearables are the perfect device to collect user data and services provide guidance and actionable insight,” he said recently.

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