How many steps have you gotten today? For many of us, that question might cause us to automatically glance at our wrists. 

Smart watches, fitness trackers, high-tech clothing, glasses, and more— wearables have gone from a futuristic idea for health and wellness to the new normal. 

While the big names including FitBit, Apple Watch, and Samsung lead the way, they aren’t the only players in the market. 

WHOOP, for example, is a Boston-based digital fitness company that closed a $100 million Series E financing round in late October. Whoop, a sponsor of many athletes across sports, is designed to help athletes determine whether they need to rest or push themselves. The company is now valued at $1.2 billion, giving it unicorn status. 

From sleep monitoring to calorie tracking and beyond, more and more people are opting to wear devices that collect health data and metrics and connect to each other. 

These devices are advancing fast from simply counting steps. Apple’s Apple Watch, for example, enables users to perform an electrocardiogram heart reading. Matrix PowerWatch Series 2 can charge itself from solar power or body heat, instead of electricity. 

Here’s what investors need to know about the current state of the wearable market and what its potential looks like. 

What are wearables?

While wearables might seem new, they aren’t even a 21st century idea. 

It’s thought that Leonardo da Vinci developed the first pedometer in the 15th century as a means to track the distance a soldier walked. Later, in the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson created the first pedometer in the US and introduced it to the American public. Beyond pedometers, most believe that a tiny abacus worn as a ring in the 17th century in China is the world’s oldest smartwatch of sorts.  

These days, modern wearable technology quantifies human movement and records physiological metrics. Diagnostic wearable medical devices “monitor, control, and track an individual’s vital signs at regular intervals.” Different wearables measure different physiological information, including blood pressure, body temperature, respiratory rate, glucose quantity, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, heart rate, muscle activity, or calories burned during exercise. These devices typically work autonomously and come in a variety of forms. 

When did wearables get so popular, again? FitBit launched its first device in 2009, a wireless device that clipped onto clothing. The first model wasn’t smartphone connected. And while 2012 models linked directly to smartphones, it wasn’t until 2013 that FitBit released a wrist worn tracker. In 2015, FitBit sold 21.4 million devices and in 2016, it sold 22.3 million devices. 

That’s not to mention smartwatches, which are technically wearable computers. Apple, Samsung, and FitBit dominate the smartwatch market today, which is anticipated to reach a market value of $130.55 billion by 2024 from $48.14 billion in 2018, indicating significant growth. 

Wearables are getting smarter and smaller. Smart jewelry, as of 2020, includes the smart ring by OURA.  A company named Joule is even working on a smart earing backing. Larger pieces have advantages, however. Smart clothing, for example, covers a larger area of the body and so can detect even more information. For example, Samsung has a patent for a shirt that can detect breathing issues and lung disease. 

Another type of wearable, called “hearables,” is on the rise too. 

According to Scotland’s National Health Service (NHS), “devices that are primarily intended to allow streaming of media to the device but that also offer a hearing enhancing function not dissimilar to a hearing aid.” The hearables market is estimated to grow to a $93 billion dollar market by 2026.

But wearables aren’t just… worn. 

For instance, the first ingestible digital health feedback system, developed by Proteus Digital Health, was approved by the FDA in 2012. Wearables come in many shapes and sizes, and have an increasing number of uses and potential uses (and users). 

Why invest in wearables?

In a world dealing with obesity and other chronic health conditions, wearables have the potential to shift medicine from the intervention stage to prevention. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Lifestyle choices that influence chronic disease include tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use. 

That’s where wearables come in. By tracking personal habits, the user is able to make changes before things get out of hand.

While wearables are wildly popular, they have yet to tap the potential in the world of remote medicine. In fact, although remote monitoring tools have enormous potential for patients with chronic illnesses, they remain vastly underused. Case in point: “ninety-one percent of the patients who use wearables identify as an athlete, compared to the only 21 percent who said they have a chronic illness.” Nonetheless, wearable technology is a promising tool in the fight against chronic disease.

Wearables offer a myriad of potential health solutions, from monitoring key health indicators to minimizing touch on shared surfaces. Wearables can open doors in office buildings, for example. Wearables can also monitor and flag changes in body temperature. Over time, wearables can determine trends and track performance, offering increasingly personalized feedback and training opportunities.

Increased adoption of wearable devices and market potential in medicine make wearables a worthy investment. 

FitBit has close to 500,000 subscribers to FitBit Premium, with the pandemic strengthening business as consumers seek ways to stay healthier from home. As part of its growth plan, FitBit plans to continue to promote subscriptions that foster engagement, as well as develop telemedicine potential. For example, the company may promote add-on devices such as a connected thermometer or an otoscope that can lessen the need for in-person doctor visits.  It’s also conducting research to determine how effective the technology can be in detecting COVID-19 early. 

Apple also has its eye on health, specifically monitoring key indicators in senior citizens.

The wearable market isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. While wearables have shown significant growth thus far, they have loads of potential, especially as it relates to increasing integration with healthcare in a world riddled with chronic disease and reeling from a pandemic. 

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