It seems an infinity of manufacturers has been joining the wearable race the past few years. Recent studies from Lux Research prove patent filings related to wearable electronics grow at a 40% annual rate, with 41,301 patents filed since 2010. These numbers may appear successful, but even with this vast amount of filed patents, Lux Research has discovered manufacturers are doing very little in terms of true innovation.
This conclusion is formulated after taking into account that there’s a very small overlap in patents filed for wearable technology and PFOE (Printed, flexible and organic electronics). PFOE applications could offer some game-changing technologies for the wearable market, yet only about 651 patent publications overlap between it and the wearable section.
Their argument does make total sense. No one jumped on board with Qualcomm’s awesome Mirasol displays, for example. I was a big supporter of Qualcomm’s new displays, which offered color imaging, daylight visibility, an always-on experience and incomparable battery life. Meanwhile, the only main manufacturer making good smart watches with e-paper displays is Pebble. Apart from those, everyone is pretty much making smart watches with smartphone technology and fancy LCD displays (which kill the battery in a heart beat). And these are but a few examples; there are many other technologies manufacturers could also take advantage of. Instead, they are sticking to this cookie-cutter techniques.
Regardless, Samsung does seem to be on top of the food chain when it comes to filing patents in this realm of the industry. About 10% of all PFOE patents are acquired by Samsung. Furthermore, they are the #1 patent owner in the wearable section with 4% of all these patents in their pocket. Qualcomm follows right behind with 3%, while Apple falls on third place with 2.2% of all wearable patents.
Samsung is also to blame for this innovation bump we are facing in the wearable industry, though. Their smart watches haven’t exactly given us too much to love. Even with the biggest wearable patent portfolio at hand, the only thing we see them doing different is applying more health features. Corroboration of this can be found in the stats within this study, which state about 25% of Samsung’s wearable patents relate to health functions. About another 53% is directly correlated to displays and speakers.
Though it hurts to go against our beloved Android manufacturers, I have to say I agree with Lux Research here. There’s so much great technology out there that could do wonders for our smart watches. Why is it that most differences between Android Wear products are either aesthetic or unnoticeable? Why is there no Android Wear smart watch with a Mirasol (or any color e-paper) display? We shouldn’t see the biggest differentiation between wearables being the shape of the screen. Sure, that round display may be gorgeous, but the true availability of options is still square.