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Now IT comes into play
Portable computers that can be assigned to the Internet of Things are trendy. Market researchers predict a great future for them. The Juniper company assumes that around 15 million wearables will be sold worldwide this year. By 2017 it should even be 70 million, the analysts predict. And ABI Research expects the market to grow to 170 million devices by then.
Credit Suisse also believes in wearables. The market is at a turning point, says analyst John Pitzer in the study "The Next Big Thing: Wearables are in fashion", mainly because the acceptance of portable computers has grown. The bank estimates the wearables market at $ 3 to 5 billion. In the next three to five years it is expected to grow to $ 30 billion to $ 50 billion. Pitzer expects 15 percent of all smartphone users would buy at least one wearable by 2018, and portable computers will then make up around 6 percent of the global electronics market.
What comes after the hype?
Gartner places "Wearable User Interfaces" in its hype cycle for emerging technologies shortly after the "Peak of inflated expectations". The hype about wearables is fading, and only after a long "phase of disillusionment" should the wearable computer really establish itself in our everyday lives.
Gartner predicts that it will take five to ten years before wearables reach the peak of their productive use. Nevertheless: The topic was apparently so important to the market researcher that he published the latest version of his technology barometer in August 2013 under the motto "Man meets machine".
Not everyone shares Gartner's view. "The hype is over," says Gerhard Tröster, head of the Wearable Computing Lab at the Institute for Electronics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. He pinpoints the peak of the wearable hype at the beginning of 2000. Back then, there were more adventurous visions that drove some companies to ruin. Portable computers that worked already existed. However, due to the lack of mature ecosystems, there were hardly any applications for them.
Helpers in everyday life
Skepticism or not - resourceful entrepreneurs believe in wearables. The team at the US startup Open Shades, for example, is working on an app for Google Glass that will make life easier for the visually impaired. The application scans the environment and helps blind people to find their way around. Recordings are matched over the web, and volunteers can provide assistance on Twitter or Amazon's Mechanical Turk marketplace.
Mercedes-Benz is already experimenting with glass and is working on a navigation system that guides the driver to his destination even when he leaves his car. The app developed for this purpose will be published as soon as Glass is available in stores, the automaker told the industry magazine Autonews.com.
App developers have recognized that the industry also has high hopes for Google's smart glasses. The US service provider Dito is in the process of programming an app for modeling building data. Construction companies could use these to make plans virtually accessible in 3-D, or an electrician could display circuit diagrams. Similar applications are conceivable in logistics or in the retail trade.
Arms race in the semiconductor industry
However, many tech companies lack the know-how to survive in the wearables market of the future. The two chip giants Intel and ARM have responded. Intel founded the "Internet of Things Solution Group" division and took a stake in the Google Glass competitor Recon Instruments. ARM bought the Finnish start-up Sensinode Oy, which specializes in software for the Internet of Things. And the competition in the semiconductor industry is already on the shelves with wearables: Samsung delivered 800,000 copies of its Galaxy Gear smartwatch to retailers within two months, and Qualcomm has also been selling its own Toq smartwatch since December.
But which companies will really capitalize on wearables? In May, Pitzer dared to make a forecast together with Credit Suisse analysts Kulbinder Garcha, Christian Buss and Stephen Ju. He published a list of companies that could particularly benefit from the wearables trend: In addition to Apple and Google, it also included the credit card company Alliance Data Systems, the semiconductor manufacturers Broadcom, NXP Semiconductors and Microchip, the Internet auction house E-Bay and the sporting goods manufacturers Nike and Under Armor. "Wearables will have a significant impact on the economy and will permeate large parts of it," comment the analysts at Credit Suisse.
Who takes over whom?
Arch-rivals Apple and Google are also getting ready for wearables. Apple re-fueled the rumors of an iWatch in August with the purchase of the chip manufacturer Passif Semiconductor. Google countered this with the acquisition of the smartwatch developer WIMM Labs. And Microsoft? According to Techcrunch, the PC giant is planning a $ 200 million investment in wearable patents from the US-based Osterhout Design Group.
There is also a lot going on in the shadow of the big ones. Lifestyle company Jawbone took over Bodymedia, which specializes in medical gadgets, for $ 100 million. The US clothing company Under Armor bought the mobile sports platform Mapmyfitness for 150 million dollars. And the makers of the smartwatch Pebble raised over $ 10 million on Kickstarter in 2012 - a new record for crowdfunding projects at the time.
Big data in a new dimension
Credit Suisse identifies the rapidly growing number of smartphones and sophisticated software ecosystems such as Android and iOS as market drivers. The widespread use of the two operating systems catapults Google and Apple into pole position in the wearables market. But intelligent sensors, energy-saving processors and powerful batteries are also giving wings to wearables. Companies in the fields of sports, medicine, lifestyle, infotainment and gaming in particular should benefit from this.
But what happens to all the data that wearables collect? They should add a context to location services and thereby make them more intelligent. Smartphones not only know where the user is, but also what they are doing. "Wearables could form the backbone for the next evolution of big data," say Credit Suisse analysts. They predict that the way data is collected will change dramatically. Unstructured information that is not recorded in any database is to be supplemented by wearables with data that was previously impossible to record.
privacy and data protection
The collection of personal data raises concerns: Will wearables soon launch the next major attack on our privacy? ETH was also confronted with these fears. At the "Züri Fäscht", she analyzed the flow of visitors with an app that was downloaded over 55,000 times. At the time, it was pointed out that position data was being collected and evaluated, says Tröster. Users were able to report what they thought of it via a questionnaire. The tenor was clear: We give our data to ETH, but not Google. "The fears have a lot to do with a lack of trust," concluded Tröster.
Google also has to face this debate. With Glass, for example, it is impossible to tell whether the glasses are taking a picture or not. That is problematic, so Tröster. "Many consumers carry one or two cameras and microphones in their pocket - and most of them have no idea whether they are on or off," says Hannes Gassert, co-founder of Liip and Skim.com. The only difference is that you wear the sensors with Google Glass directly on your face. Nevertheless, there is a need for a social dialogue about how to use wearables. Such topics had already been discussed at the lift conference in Geneva, says Gassert, who has already experimented with glass himself.
Wearables in the workplace
Frank Clemens, who is group leader in the high-performance ceramics department at the Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt Empa, also believes in wearables in the workplace: "Otherwise I wouldn't be working on this topic with my group."
Together with STBL Medical Research, his team has developed a sensor that can massively increase the accuracy of blood pressure measurements. "We expect performance and high data processing speed from a computer. This is why further miniaturization in the semiconductor industry in particular will be the driving force behind new products."
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