Wearable tech is set for another blockbuster year in 2020 – and there's a host of big changes afoot that will shape our connected lives.
With Fitbit selling out to Google and wearable companies battling with the FDA over advanced sensors and detection of conditions – the truly exciting possibilities of wearables are still to be realised.
Below is our 20 big predictions for what's going to down in wearables. Think we've missed something? Let us know in the comments below.
Look ahead: Try our list of upcoming smartwatches for 2021
Fitbit and Google’s first big move
Google’s decision to buy Fitbit was arguably the biggest wearable tech news story of 2019. The acquisition is expected to be completed this year (subject to Justice Department approval, which isn't a given) bringing with it thoughts on how Google will make use of the fitness tracker and smartwatch maker’s expertise.
We know that talk of a Pixel Watch to rival the Apple Watch and Samsung’s Galaxy Watches continues to be talked about. Bringing in Fitbit feels like a move to make finally make this a reality.
We also know that Google is making a bigger push into the health tech space. Fitbit has been doing that for a few years now working with major medical institutions while adding more serious health monitoring features to its devices.
It makes a lot of sense that new hardware, whether that’s in smartwatch or fitness tracker form, that continues to put serious health monitoring at the heart, is how this acquisition will bear fruit.
Sleep tracking gets serious
Even if Apple doesn’t bring native sleep tracking support to its next Watch, the rise of sleep tracking is a trend we fully expect to become a richer, more insightful feature for wearables. It's becoming a vibrant battleground for 2020 wearables, and companies are now able to offer real, reliable insights and actionable data.
The likes of Fitbit, Garmin and Withings are seeking to offer richer data about our sleep. It’s no longer just about how your quality of sleep, but it’s become more about what can be discovered from your sleep.
Fitbit has finally turned on the SpO2 sensors that have laid dormant inside of its most recent trackers and smartwatches to help detect signs in your sleep that you could be suffering from the sleep disorder sleep apnea.
Garmin is doing the same as isWithings with its new ScanWatch. This is only the start as well. If Apple does join the party too, monitoring your bed time could be about to change in a really big way.
Xiaomi smartwatches to land in the West
The Apple of the East has dominated all things wearables in its native China largely in part to the runaway success of the Xiaomi Mi Band fitness tracker – so we're really interested to see whether the company can make the same kind of impact on the smartwatch market.
The Xiaomi Mi Watch launched in China at the backend of 2019 and was the company’s first ever smartwatch to run on Google’s Wear OS. Its arrival is highly anticipated, along with the Xiaomi Mi Watch Colour.
If the price point of the Apple Watch look-alike keeps in line with Xiaomi’s other wearables when it is rolled out further afield it could be prove to a budget smartwatch hit to look out for.
Apple has already pre-empted the arrival of budget devices with its aggressive Apple Watch Series 3 price cut.
However, Apple only dominates the iOS market, which means there's plenty of room for others to come in. Fossil's huge range comes with premium price tags, as does Samsung. We feel there's plenty of room for a big hitter, and with its smartphone success, Xiaomi fits the bill.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 2 incoming
Samsung sprang a big surprise by launching two versions of its Galaxy Watch Active smartwatch in the very same year. In fact, the announcements were just a few months apart.
Rumors are building though that it could be time for the bigger, more feature-rich Galaxy Watch 2 to get an update too. Model numbers that appear to be tied to a new Samsung smartwatch are fuelling those rumors.
The first Galaxy Watch was announced in 2018, which means it's overdue an upgrade.
With features like ECG and Fall Detection still set to to land for the Active 2, Samsung might decide to add another watch to the ranks that offers those health and safety features and maybe even more to separate it from its cheaper smartwatch sibling.
Return of the hearable
We tipped hearables to explode a few years ago when startups like Doppler Labs and crowdfund success stories like Bragi were showing what was possible in the quest to smartening up the ears. Then things went a little quiet.
Doppler Labs and Bragi exited the space, but then Apple decided it was time to play and not for the first time, it has sparked thing back to life. AirPods has been a big success story for Apple, but it’s also sparked its competitors to up their game and redefine what a hearable should do and be capable of.
However, the focus so far has been simply true wireless headphones with little evidence of the smart tech pioneered by the likes of Bragi. But there are signs that 2020 could see a return of true hearable tech.
Amazon, Google, Jabra and early hearable players Nuheara are offering better quality alternatives to Apple’s ‘Pods and as a result giving people more choice and more features to tap into. The TicPod Pro uses head gestures to control music and calls, and the Echo Buds enable Alexa to leave the house with you.
We'd wager the second coming of hearables is set for 2020.
Xiaomi Mi Band 5
The Mi Band 5 is coming. We know that to be the case because its makers Huami said so in an earnings call last year. After making big changes in the display and features department, all eyes will be on how Xiaomi will look to dominate the budget fitness tracker scene for another year.
We expected big features like NFC for payment support (outside of China) and ECG would make the cut for the Mi Band 4, but they were MIA. Huami continues to talk more about health monitoring, so it’s probably a safe bet to suggest it’s going to ramp things up on that front for the 2020 edition of the Mi Band on top of the features it already packs into its budget band.
Wearables versus the FDA
As wearable makers increasingly turn their attentions towards letting us monitor and detect the signs of serious health conditions, it brings with it even closer scrutiny by regulatory bodies who are the gatekeepers to these features being put to good use.
Apple, Withings, Fitbit and Samsung are among the companies that rely on getting the thumbs up from the likes of the FDA or seeking a CE marking in Europe to make those serious health insights. ECG on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is awaiting approval, while Withings has had to play the waiting game to turn on similar support on its most recent hybrids.
What's more, while Fitbit has launched its SpO2 blood oxygen variation feature, it's refrained from using any language around sleep apnea or other conditions. That seriously hobbles the usefulness, and is now up to users to understand what the data means.
As more health monitoring wearables appear on the scene and established names boost their health monitoring abilities, there is also going to be the hope that approval process speeds up.
We anticipate the relationship between wearables and the FDA will continue to be a frosty one – but true progress relies on someone creating a precedent for others to follow.
Apple Watch to get sleep smarts
If Apple is able to make better use of its power reserves, it could finally deliver us its own sleep monitoring app. We thought Apple were planning to introduce a native sleep monitoring app last year, but it never materialised.
An Apple Watch Sleep app for tracking bedtime from your Watch has reportedly been undergoing testing at Cupertino, as it was first reported in early 2019.
One potential stumbling block for letting you sleep with your Apple Watch has surely been battery life. Apple hasn’t budged from the 18 hours of battery life since its first smartwatch, though its stamina continues to improve with every new instalment.
A move to a more power-efficient display and the potential likely improvements made in the processor department could finally mean now is the time to roll the feature out.
Smartglasses you’ll actually want to wear
Will Apple launch smartglasses in 2020 or not? That is still something very much up for debate. While Cook and company decide whether it’s ready to bring tech to our faces, there’s a few startups already making big strides in connected eyewear.
None more so than North who launched its Focals smartglasses in 2019, and has revealed Focals 2.0 will launch in 2020.
The company previously known as Thalmic Labs has halted production on the first gen Focal to focus on its successor. They’ll still project a display in front of the wearer’s eye (that only the wearer can see), improving the resolution of that discreet display and housing the tech into lighter and sleeker-looking pair of glasses.
North hasn’t revealed when they’ll launch this year, but here’s hoping they are cheaper to own than the first pair.
PSVR2 to join PS5
Sony hasn’t suggested new PSVR hardware is on the horizon, but speculation driven by patent filings point to a PSVR 2 being in the works.
Those patents point to something we’d fully expect Sony to be working on and that’s something that ditches the cables. HTC and Facebook-owned Oculus have already made moves to go untethered. So could Sony follow suit? We think there’s probably a fair chance it will.
Fossil’s Gen 6 get serious about health
Like Apple and Samsung, Fossil remains committed to launching new smartwatches across its many brands a yearly thing. It started rolling out its Fossil Gen 5 watches in August last year and we anticipate the same will happen for Gen 6.
But what will Fossil have in store for us? We got a speaker to make and take calls, more onboard storage, a new processor and sportier looks.
Our biggest hint what could be next for Fossil smartwatches could lie with the apps that were preloaded with Gen 5. It was the first time Fossil made a big deal of including a serious heart health monitoring app in the form of Cardiogram on its watches.
It wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility to think that it will beef up those health monitoring features. All while still wrapping it all up in a host of looks and models that get slimmer and more stylish.
Controlling your mind
We’ve spoken in the past about the idea that wearables will begin to tap more into our brain to influence behaviours and instigate improvements in your athletic ability or even learning an instrument.
What if there was a wearable that meant you never had to reach down the back of the sofa to find the remote to launch another Netflix binging sesh? It sounds like a distant future, but startup NextMind is ready to make that a reality sooner than you think.
Its brain-sensing wearable is capable of translating electrical brain signals into commands to take control of devices in real time. Worn on a cap or headband, development kits will start shipping in the first half of 2020, which could mean the tech being put to smart use before the end of the year.
Return of the luxury smartwatches
2020 should see two major watch brands return to the smartwatch fray with new launches in the first half of the year. Tag Heuer was one of the first Swiss watchmakers to go connected and we expect that a new Connected smartwatch will launch likely in March.
Last year it launched a golf edition of its Modular 45 watch, so a new model could bring improved internals to bringing it in line with the latest smartwatches running on Google’s Wear OS operating system.
LVMH stablemate Hublot is also expected to launch another smartwatch despite suggestions its first, a tie-in for the 2018 World Cup, would be a one-off. You can look out for a Euro 2020 Hublot smartwatch ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Garmin ups the style stakes and spreads the display love
Garmin’s commitment to wearables shows no signs of letting up. Last year, it unveiled its first watch with a color display in the form of the Venu and it did it while offering that Garmin staple of big battery life. Now we wait to see whether it’ll bring that display tech to other watches in its collection like the Fenix and the many Forerunners.
With the Marq and more luxury watches like the Vivomove Luxe, it’s clear that Garmin is trying to ramp up things in the looks department.
A big feature that has been missing on Garmin’s watches is cellular connectivity. Only one watch in its collection offers it, but 2020 could see more of its devices get the LTE treatment.
Qualcomm gives Wear OS a proper boost
The performance of smartwatches that run on Google’s operating system rests on what Qualcomm does to make things tick.
It’s been building the platform that powers Wear since the very start. In 2018, it launched the Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform bringing feature improvements like new battery modes to extend the pretty underwhelming battery performances of Wear watches. But it didn’t really feel like a big step from what Qualcomm had come up with before.
That could change this year with rumors that a platform that may go by the name Snapdragon Wear 3300 will finally deliver that performance boost we crave.
It’s said to be based on the Snapdragon 429 platform that is currently built for phones and tablets. Whether that will bring the performance boost relies on something else getting a revamp, which we will get onto next.
Wear OS gets an overhaul
Another year on in the life cycle of Google’s Wear OS watches and things haven’t changed enough to convince us it’s one of the standout operating systems to have to play with on your wrist.
For all of the tweaks and improvements its made to improving iPhone support, the UI and features like Google Fit, it still doesn’t quite match up to what Apple, Samsung and others have built as far making it an enjoyable OS to use.
But perhaps the Xiami Mi Watch
So, it’s time for Google to go back to the drawing board and what better time to do it than with the acquisition of Fitbit. Don’t get us wrong, Fitbit’s OS isn’t perfect, but there are some things it does significantly better than Google. Like fitness tracking for starters. Google Fit needs an overhaul and it should tapping into the few Pebble minds that have remained at Fitbit to understand what people want from a smartwatch operating system.
Apple Watch Series 6 brings a display shake-up
Okay, so it’s not much of a prediction to say that a new Apple Watch will probably be announced in September, just as it has been the case since the first generation dropped back in 2014. We can speculate though what big features lie in store for the next instalment.
The Apple Watch Series 5 wasn’t a major upgrade from the Series 4, but it cemented its place as the best smartwatch even without making big changes. So all things point to something more radical for the Series 6 and that could lie with the display. Rumors have persisted for some time now that Apple could move from its current OLED screens to a MicroLED ones.
The more power efficient display tech could help reserve power and battery life for new features like the one below we’ve been asking for for a while.
Amazfit wearables break out in a big way
Amazfit wearables are made by the same company that makes Xiaomi Mi Band and Mi Watch.
Take a look at its website and it's steadily building a vast collection of affordable options that don’t scrimp on the features. In 2020 already, we’ve had the Amazfit Bip S and the brilliantly named Amazfit T-Rex smartwatches. We’ve also got hearables too.
It delivered a host of wearables in 2019, and it’s highly likely to do the same again this year. We’ve already seen its Amazfit X curved-display smartwatch pop up on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
Huami founder, chairman and CEO Huang Wang announced back in December that the company was ready to mass produce its Huangshan 2 wearable chip. The first Huangshan chip was designed to enable greater heart monitoring-based features, so it’s likely version 2 will also unlock features around health monitoring and improving existing smart features.
Blood pressure wearables drop
After heart rate monitoring, where is the next big health monitoring battleground for wearables? All signs point to monitoring blood pressure in a truly non invasive way. Companies like Omron believe they have cracked it, but its solution comes at a price and at the expense of something you’d probably want to wear all day. The first big breakthrough for blood pressure monitoring wearables for the masses could happen, but away from the wrist.
Valencell, a maker of biometric sensors that have appeared in devices from Bose and Jabra has been working on blood pressure-sensing earbuds for a while now. It believes they are ready to do their thing and put the PPG tech into devices you’d want to own. It sounds like these buds won’t be medical grade, but could unlock the ability to being used in conjunction with mindful applications.
It’s dishing out prototype kits early this year, which could well lead to our first pair of mass market blood pressure buds before the end of 2020.
Fighting the smog
The air quality in our cities is bad and wearables have begun to offer solutions as to how we can monitor pollution levels and help you have a better idea of the areas that are most harmful. Wearable air quality trackers are not new, but we’ve yet to really see it crop up in the devices that are driving the industry right now; smartwatches.
French startup IEVA could pave the way for the big names in the space to offer the sensor tech to make its watches better at monitoring air quality. Its own Time-C smartwatch is able to monitor environmental pollution levels indoors and outdoors via CO2 and Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) sensors built into the case. It can also track location-based pollution data.
It’s launching this year and if it performs as well as it looks, then it may not be the first smartwatch that's primed to monitor pollution.
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