Driven by rising demand for fitness and health monitoring features as well as by improved user interfaces, shipments of sensors used in wearable electronic devices will rise by a factor of seven from 2013 through 2019, according to IHS Technology.
The worldwide market for sensors in wearables will expand to 466 million units in 2019, up from 67 million in 2013, as presented in the figure below.
Shipments of sensors will climb much more quickly than the market for the wearable devices themselves. Wearable devices will increase to 135 million units in 2019, less than three times the total of 50 million in 2013.
“Wearables are a hotbed for sensors, with market growth driven by the increasing number of these components in each product sold,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and senior principal analyst, MEMS & Sensors, at IHS Technology. “The main factor propelling this phenomenon is a transition in market share away from simple products like pedometers and toward more sophisticated multipurpose devices such as smartwatches and smartglasses. Instead of using a single sensor like the simpler devices, the more complex products employ numerous components for health and activity monitoring, as well as for their more advanced user interfaces.”
The average wearable device shipped in 2019 will incorporate 4.1 sensor elements, up from 1.4 in 2013.
Smartphone brands are increasingly aware that wearables are a better platform for some types of sensors than mobile handsets. IHS expects components like humidity sensors and pulse sensors to move from handsets to wearable devices, such as new smartwatches introduced by Samsung, Apple and others. This will further boost shipments of sensors in wearables.
The types of sensors used in wearables are motion sensors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and sensors for user interfaces, health sensors and environmental sensors.
Motion sensors represent the dominant technology in the wearables segment and comprise the component categories of accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, pressure sensors and combo motion sensors. MEMS sensors for user interfaces include MEMS microphones, proximity sensors and MEMS displays.
The health sensor area is represented by pulse, pulse-oximeters, hydration and skin temperature sensors. Environmental sensors include humidity, temperature and ultraviolet (UV) components.
Wearables increasingly are employing sensors for fitness monitoring, using motion sensors or health sensors. The wearable devices also are implementing fitness and health monitoring using motion sensors or health sensors like pulse sensors. On the user interface front, wearables use MEMS microphones for voice command and motion sensors for tap command.
“The use of these types of sensors reflects consumer preferences that are propelling the growth of the wearables market,” Bouchaud said. “Users want health and fitness monitoring, and they want wearable devices that act as extensions of their smartphones. However, there’s no real demand from consumers for environmental sensors. Instead, the rising adoption of environmental sensors such as humidity and UV devices is being pushed by both sensor suppliers and wearable original equipment manufacturers (OEM).”
Watching the market
The market for sensors in wearables will undergo a major acceleration next year as shipments of the Apple Watch commence. Overall wearable sensor shipments will double next year; shipments of sensors for smartwatches will surge by nearly 600 percent.
The Apple Watch not only employs an accelerometer, but also a gyroscope, a microphone and a pulse sensor.
“Similar to the iPhone and iPad, IHS expects the Apple Watch will set a de facto standard for sensor specifications in smartwatches,” Bouchaud said. “Most other wearable OEMs will follow Apple’s lead in using these four devices—or will add even more sensors to differentiate.”
Fitness and heart rate monitors and foot pods and pedometers lead the wearable market in terms of sensor shipments in 2013.
However, smartwatches will take the top position starting next year and will maintain dominance through 2019.
STMicroelectronics dominates sensors
STMicroelectronics is by far the top MEMS and sensor supplier for the wearable market. The company consolidated its leadership position in 2013 with a 26 percent share of revenue, up from 20 percent in 2012.
Beside its leadership in the discrete accelerometer market, STMicroelectronics’ success with wearable sensors is because of its strong bundling strategy. The company often sells its sensors as part of a packaged deal along with its other semiconductor offerings, such as 32-bit microcontrollers and wireless chips.