Line blurs between healthcare-specific, everyday wearables

Smart watch on runner's wrist showing heart rate results
Wearables devices now face scrutiny across different markets before a manufacturer can tout its credentials.(Nastasic/E+/Getty Images)

Fueled by the pandemic, the growth trend in the market for smart, wearable devices is expected to continue in 2021 and beyond. That’s according to the research firm CCS Insight, which in its most recent report on smart wearables is forecasting sales growth of 24% in 2021 to 239 million units worldwide.

CCS Insight expects the trend to continue in 2021 and beyond, with over 1.2 billion devices expected to be in use (albeit some will inevitably wind up shoved in a drawer, never to actually be put into use) by the end of 2025, with yearly sales approaching 400 million units.

“Right now, we’re seeing more companies entering the wearables market than leaving it,” said Leo Gebbie, senior analyst, wearables and XR, CCS Insight and author. “We estimate that wrist-worn device sales generated almost $24 billion in 2020, and this lucrative market is attracting more and more competitors. In particular, almost all major smartphone makers now offer a smartwatch, and often a fitness tracker, as part of their portfolio. We’re also forecasting strong growth in terms of device shipments, and expect that over 1.2 billion smartwatches and fitness trackers will be in use by the end of 2025.”

Wearables forecast chart 2016-2025 CCS Insights

That growth will provide space for a broad range of devices to flourish; budget fitness trackers will sell well to casual users and in less advanced markets, while advanced smartwatches will push the top end of the market forwards. 

One key trend in the market over the last few years has been the rise in health and fitness tracking sensors, both in smartwatches and dedicated fitness trackers.

“Features like heart rate monitoring are now standard across all wrist-worn devices and we're seeing more advanced features, like electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood oxygen level measurements, rolling down the price curve. This was already a key driver of wearables adoption before Covid-19,” said Gebbie. “But we believe that the pandemic increased the interest in devices which can monitor health and wellbeing as these became pressing questions for many people around the world.”

That, in turn, is blurring the boundaries between advanced, health-care specific devices (like Blumio’s wearable blood pressure monitoring system) and everyday wearables.

“Devices now face regulatory scrutiny across different markets before they can advertise their credentials,” said Gebbie. “As a result, it’s not uncommon to see devices launch in a given market, and then announce the addition of a health-tracking feature at a later date, even though the hardware itself hasn’t changed. This is due to the time it can take to gain sign-off from bodies like the FDA for features like ECG measurements. “

Gebbie went on to say that the caveats around advanced health monitoring tools on mainstream wearables are normally numerous. Device makers are careful to stress that their devices do not replace traditional methods of diagnosis, and that an ECG or blood oxygen reading should not be used to self-diagnose a condition.

“It’s likely that official medical devices will reserve an important role here for the foreseeable future,” he concluded. 


The incredible rise of the wearable

Pandemic prompts health boom for wearables

Wearable blood pressure sensor edges closer to reality

Editor's note: Don't miss the track on Innovations in Wearable Tech, part of MedTech Innovation Week, April 26-28, 2021, hosted by Fierce Electronics and Fierce Healthcare. Register here for this free digital event.