Wearable technology is often touted as one of the greatest applications of the Internet of Things, and with good reason.
Wearable electronics that consumers can display on their bodies have the potential to transform the way we live. Devices from Fitbit and its peer companies allow people to track their health and exercise progress in previously impossible ways. And smartwatches bring the power of smartphones directly to the wearer's wrist.
But IoT devices didn't just crop up out of nowhere. This wearable technology can trace its roots back further than you might think, and the road ahead for wearable devices looks bright.
We've compiled a history of the wearables market that looks at the past, present, and future of these devices.
If we wanted to be truly technical, we could trace the history of wearable devices all the way back to the Roman emperor Nero, who used emeralds like eyeglasses in order to get a sharper view of gladiatorial combat.
But let's fast forward almost 2000 years to 1961, when the first wearable computer appeared inside the shoes of MIT mathematics professors Edward O. Thorp and Claude Shannon. The two designed a timing device to fit inside their shoes to rather accurately predict where the ball would land in a roulette wheel, and then transmit the number through radio waves to the gambler at the table. Thorp reported a 44% increase in winning bets in his book Beat The Dealer. In fact, the strategy was so successful that Nevada passed a law banning such machines in 1985.
More than a decade later, the Pulsar "Calculator" wristwatch hit the market and allowed people to figure out their restaurant tips.
Several years after that came Steve Mann, who would pioneer several wearable devices in his time. But he got started in high school in 1981, when he wired a computer to his backpack in order to control photographic equipment. He even mounted a camera viewfinder to a helmet to serve as the display.
Then in 1994, Mann created the Wearable Wireless Webcam, which he used to upload images to the Internet until 1996. You can think of him as the first blogger, if you will.
Once we hit 2000, the first Bluetooth headset arrived on the market. In 2006, Nike and Apple joined forces to create the appropriately named Nike+iPod, a sport bundle that let runners and the health conscious sync their movements to their iPod.
But the wearables craze truly exploded in the 2010s. In 2011, Google developed the first prototype of what would become Google Glass. The tech giant sent test models to a select group in April 2013 and then released the device to the general public in May 2014.
Fitbit has released a dozen wearable devices and became so successful that they filed their IPO for $358 million in 2015.
And Apple, the global king of technology, released the Apple Watch on April 24, 2015.
Today, we've reached a sweet spot for wearable devices. Companies are producing mass quantities of wearable technology, but the market is not oversaturated.
The Apple Watch is alive and well thanks to a price reduction and solid craftsmanship, and rumors are swirling that an Apple Watch 2 with GPS and improved processing power would hit the market by the end of this year.
The Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Alta both released earlier this year and have received positive reviews from consumers and critics alike.
And more traditional looking wearables, such as the Samsung Gear S2 and the Huawei Watch, blend style and function.
CCS Insight expects the wearables market to reach $14 billion by the end of this year, according to Forbes. And BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, expects the wearables market to grow to 162.9 million units by the end of 2020.
The healthcare sector will be one of the top catalysts to push the wearables markets to these heights, as consumer and professional healthcare trends will spur interest in wearable devices.
Fitness trackers, in particular, are the leading consumer case for wearables because most consumers use wearable devices to record their exercise and health statistics and progress. And hospitals, med-tech companies, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies have started to utilize these devices.
Accuracy will remain the top barrier to widespread adoption, as manufacturers must ensure that these devices transmit correct data so that users receive accurate progress reports. And as always, privacy concerns are of the utmost importance.
Furthermore, smartwatches will likely cannibalize a major portion of demand for fitness trackers, as these devices perform many of the same functions as fitness bands but carry a host of other features, as well.
But other questions still remain. Will these devices truly be transformative? Will the average consumer want to have a wearable device attached to them 24 hours a day to monitor all of their activities? Will these devices need to be more fashion friendly, or even totally concealed? Will the government impose restrictive regulations on IoT devices?