As 2018 draws to a close, it’s our chance to take a look at the year that was. And 2018 has been another storming year for wearable technology.
While there were fewer launches and companies compared to the wild days of 2014, the wearables of 2018 are stronger and capable of making big waves. The Samsung Galaxy Watch, Apple Watch Series 4 and Fitbit Versa have all debuted this year – and throwing off the term “wearable”, these devices are creating billion dollar categories in their own right.
Yet there are huge new industries on the horizon. Consumer medical devices steam onwards, as does AR and VR. So let’s take a look at how the year went down in the world of wearables.
The year kicked off badly for Strava, which got some unwanted press after tracked workouts showed the locations of some secret military bases in the desert.
2018 was a big year for Apple’s health ambitions, and it starts strong when the company enabled users to download health data from the Apple Health app.
Tag Heuer launched its new smartwatch – the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41. Scaling down the blingy smartwatch to just 41mm, the new smartwatch reaffirmed LVMH’s commitment to the medium while others have folded.
Of course January is CES time and while the show wasn’t a classic for wearables (Apple and Fitbit rarely release at big tech shows these days) we saw interesting new sports wearables in the form of the Suunto 3 Fitness and Garmin's first watch with a built-in music player.
Finally, Oculus and Xiaomi teamed up for the Xiaomi Mi VR – a cut-price headset, which looked set to compete with the Samsung Gear VR at a lower price.
Back in February 2018 Fitbit was having a hard time. But the company sweetened the bitter pill of a pretty turgid set of financial results by announcing a “mass appeal smartwatch” to its investors. And they lapped it up.
Elsewhere we got a new Freddie Constant hybrid smartwatch ahead of Baselworld – but said goodbye to the first gen Snap Spectacles, which were finally put to the sword after a tortured year of not being bought from mysterious vending machines.
The First Attempt at a VR Experience – The Sensorama. In the 1950s, a cinematographer by the name of Morton Heilig came up with a unique concept he later developed, known as the Sensorama. Featuring an arcade-style theater cabinet, the sensorama was aimed at stimulating a person’s senses. It featured a stereoscopic 3D display, fans and smell generators, stereo speakers, as well as a vibrating chair. The idea of the Sensorama was to fully immerse a person into a film-like experience. Heilig also went on to create as much as six short movies for his device.
As Baselworld arrived we got another new Mondaine hybrid smartwatch, Hublot's first smartwatch but it was Fossil and Skagen that shone in Switzerland with the exceptional-looking Holst hybrid watch.
It didn’t take long for Fitbit to get around to unveiling its “mass appeal smartwatch” – which turned out to be the Fitbit Versa. And it seemed the company was right about mass appeal – the Versa would turn around the company’s fortunes and change the landscape for smartwatches in 2018.
Elsewhere, Android Wear got renamed to Wear OS – but we’d have to wait a while longer to see any significant changes to Google’s OS.
April showed no signs of a let up, as Puma and Fossil announced they were teaming up on a smartwatch. It wouldn’t be the last we’d hear of Fossil helping other designer brands with smartwatches – but we’d see no hardware for the rest of the year.
Intel backed out of wearables after a fairly tortured existence since 2014, where it made little impression on the market – with consumer and enterprise devices failing to see the light of day. Its last device – the Vaunt smartglasses – died with the announcement, although its chip lives on inside Tag’s smartwatch and the remaining patents of that project has been snapped up by startup North for its stylish Focals smart specs.
But the market carried on regardless, with the Garmin Approach S10 and Casio ProTrek WSD-F20A getting announced.
May started with Asteroid OS getting a release – an open source wearable OS based on Linux.
But it was good old Wear OS on the Ticwatch Pro – which got our attention with a neat double layered screen, which could offer up to 30 days of battery life.
And we said bonjour to an old friend. After a miserable time at Nokia where the two companies achieved little more than writing “NOKIA” on thousands of hybrid watches – Withings bought itself away from the Finnish company.
And at the end of May Xioami announced a little device called the Mi Band 3 – which would outsell both Apple and Fitbit by the end of the year, thanks to its super low price.
At WWDC Apple announced its watchOS 5 operating system with improved fitness features and watch faces. Garmin announced the Vivoactive 3 Music – continuing its 2018 trend of adding music playback to its watches. And setting a theme for the year, both the Fitbit Versa and Mi Band posted big early numbers, as Apple’s strangehold on wearables loosened.
The Biggest Concerns. Despite the positives, there are some concerns about virtual reality. For example, some critics point out health and safety issues. If the technology is not used properly, users might suffer from health issues like seizures and other major discomfort. Some people could also trip and fall. There are also major privacy concerns with virtual reality. Some people fear that the headsets could lead to government surveillance, although there is no proof of that as of yet.
A quiet month in July, Fitbit acknowledged that its devices were draining data – and fully issued a fix for Android phones. Amazon’s Prime Day event saw a host of wearable tech deals, and a vacuum of news.
As August came round it was a step change for news. The Fitbit Charge 3 was announced as Fitbit revamped its traditional bands, and Strava Summit offered up new features for less cash.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch started to get rumoured and Fossil continued its assault on the smartwatch market with the Fossil Q Explorist HR and a host of other new feature-packed smartwatches. Finally, the Sony FES watch – which we covered in 2014 – got a European release and we fell in love all over again.
In September the new Wear OS rolled out, offering a much-needed improvement to the Android watch operating system, although new devices would wait for the updated Qualcomm chip, which was also unveiled. This would offer improved battery life for Wear smartwatches and better power.
But September belonged to the Apple Watch Series 4, which was announced with a new bigger screen (it came in 42mm and 44mm sizes), less bezel and the all-important ECG sensor and fall detection.
Things heated up in October as Spotify came to Garmin sports watches (a sign of things to come). The Huawei Watch GT launched with some incredible specs including two weeks of battery life – sadly enabled by its own OS rather than the developer splendour of the new Wear OS. And as privacy outrages swarmed around Facebook the company announced its attention for a pair of face-worn AR glasses.
Finally, Spotify for Apple Watch dropped, ending Apple’s hegemony on streaming services from the wrist – although it fell short of offline syncing. New Snap Specs made an appearance – which was surprising given how hard the first set failed.
Cons: Battery life not improved | Siri integration Feature check: GPS, swimming friendly, Apple Pay, 2 day battery, heart rate monitor. Cons: Lack of apps | Computer-only music transfer Feature check: Works with iOS and Android, GPS/GLONASS, heart rate monitor, dedicated sports modes including swimming, Garmin Pay, music storage, Deezer/iHeartRadio playlist syncing.
And it seemed the HTC Vive Cosmos could be the long-awaited follow up to the excellent first generation headset.
The year rang out with ECG arriving on Apple Watch right on schedule – although it’s only available in the US for now. The Wareable Tech Awards gave the Series 4 the Wearable of the Year prize – along with Smartwatch of the Year and Health Tech of the Year, and smartwatches were tipped to boom through 2019 before hearables pick up the mantle.
And finally, those cheeky cats at Puma rang in 2019 with a pair of smart shoes.
Major Brands Are Investing in VR. About 75 percent of the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands have created some form of virtual reality or augmented reality experience for customers or employees, or are themselves developing these technologies. Given that this study was conducted in October 2015, the number is likely significantly higher.