Smartwatches are the primary drivers of the significant expansion of the wearable technology landscape today. Between 2015 and 2018, the global revenues in the entire wearable market grew from $15.4 billion to $30.7 billion, and 35% of the revenues mainly stemmed from smartwatches alone.
According to International Data Corporation (IDC), Apple was the top player in the wearables market at the end of 2019, contributing 29.3% of the market and selling 21.2 million units in 2020 Q1, out of which 4.5 million units were smartwatches. Besides, the revenues from smartwatches are increasing by +9.7% per year.
The popularity of smartwatches derives from the wide range of monitoring capabilities, including notifications, alarms, music control, auto sleep, and other functions, such as payment, fitness/activity tracking, communication, and navigation.
Driven by recent technology advances and our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, smartwatches are poised to attain new significance and dramatically expanded use by healthcare systems, businesses, educational institutions, and governments. They offer powerful new tools to improve workforce wellbeing, healthcare quality, and operational safety.
This post will explore the key electronic components of a smartwatch, such as printed circuit boards and batteries that range from 5% to 10% of total weight, depending on the brand and model of the device.
Printed circuit board (PCB)
PCBs are the fundamental building block of a device, on which all electronic components such as sensors, wireless chipsets, processors are mounted and routed together to achieve functionality. There are various types of PCBs: rigid, flexible, rigid-flex circuits, and printed electronics. The manufacturing process of the printed circuit board is energy-intensive and, hence, a significant contributor to climate change.
Sensors are the core element of wearable technology. Their main function is to monitor the user’s movements to give them a better understanding of their activity. Examples of sensors found in wearables include accelerometers, gyroscopes, altimeters, temperature sensors, bioimpedance sensors, and heart rate monitors. This diversity of sensor technology results in various material compositions, and some may contain hazardous substances that can potentially harm environmental and human health.
The display is the major input and output element of wearable technology and is mainly used for communication purposes. The display can be divided into two parts: an inductive touch panel and a smart display. Examples of screen types used in wearable technology are AMOLED, OLED, E-ink, traditional LCD, and sharp memory LCD. E-ink and LED are the most widely used technology, as they consume less power.
Batteries are the main source of power in wearables. Two types of batteries are mainly available: Lithium polymer and Li-ion. The ideal choice for a wearable device is generally a lithium battery because of its higher power capacity.
The main function of a wireless chipset is data transmission through wireless radio, including cellular/GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC. The small size of wearables requires manufacturers to opt for chipsets that incorporate these functions and, at the same time, can fit into a narrow frame. Additionally, the electricity consumption of this component is a key factor to consider as wearables need a chipset that can be activated all the time to continuously monitor sensors and collect data.
The processor on a wearable device is responsible for running its operating system, applications, receiving input from sensors or the user, and producing output. Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) processors are the most popular options for wearables. Like chipsets, electricity consumption is one of the key sustainability factors associated with a processor.
An attachment system is a technology that connects the device to a wearer (e.g., a band, clip, adhesive, or necklace). The materials used vary with the type of attachment but generally include plastics, silicone rubber, fabric, leather, and/or metal.