Bringing expertise to accelerate development and reach the $100B wearable device market – Interview with Analog Devices

The popularity of wearable devices is mainly driven by the growing interest of users in functions allowing them to track their sport performance, their quality of life, and their health. The needs are reinforced in the current pandemic context. Yole Développement (Yole) estimates a market of nearly $100B for wearable devices by 2025, with a forecast Compound Annual Growth Rates from 2019-2025 (CAGR19-25) of 11.1% in the report Wearables in Consumer and Medical Applications 2020. For device manufacturers, the challenges are numerous, including strong integration of sensors, complex architecture, power management, and data accuracy for wearable products with relatively short lifecycles. In this context, we at Yole had great opportunity to share views with Jan-Hein Broeders, Key Account Manager and HealthCare BDM at Analog Devices (ADI) in EMEA, to better understand these challenges and how ADI is supporting companies in the race of wearable innovation. Read his discussion with Jérôme Mouly, Team Lead Analyst in the Sensing and Actuating team within the Photonic and Sensing Division at Yole Développement, below.

Consumer wearables - From fitness to healthcare functions

Jérôme Mouly (JM): Could you briefly introduce Analog Devices and more especially its activity related to wearables?

Jan-Hein Broeders (JHB): Analog Devices is a manufacturer of semiconductors. Our focus and main expertise is design and manufacturing of high-performance analog and mixed signal integrated circuits, sensors, digital processing and power management products. ADI serves a wide range of applications and market segments, including healthcare. Looking at the healthcare market we can divide this industry into three sub-segments, medical imaging, vital sign monitoring and medical instrumentation and life science. The sub-segment using wearable technologies the most is vital signs monitoring. Initially this business started with applications for sports and wellness. The most popular use-cases at that time included pedometers and heart rate monitors. In the meantime, the wearable market has expanded to more professional uses-cases including applications for medical diagnostics and in-hospital use. Other interesting focus areas are hospital to the home and independent living. With a wide range of application specific sensors and sensor-front-ends, Analog Devices has a serious play in each of these applications, markets and use-cases. Accuracy, miniaturization and low power dissipation are the key drivers for success.

JM: What current trends do you see in the wearable market in terms of product types like wristbands, smartwatches, hearables and smart patches? And in terms of the functions most desired like activity tracking, heart rate measurement, oxygen saturation, augmented audio and emotion sensing?

JHB: This is not an easy question to answer, so let me look at the end-markets first. As mentioned before, the home and sports and wellness market has been making use of wearables for a long time already. There are various products on the market, being able to monitor steps, heart rate, calorie burn and activity. As most of these measurements are done during work-out, it is logical to have sensors embedded in either a wrist-worn device or in earbuds. The physiology of the human body has a big impact on the sensitivity and accuracy of the measurement, and so the positions of the sensors on the body play an important role. A wrist-worn device might be most comfortable to wear, but this location is far from ideal. There are not many arteries at the top of the wrist, and so optical sensors will not pick up a solid signal. In addition, there is usually a lot of movement on the wrist, what is disturbing the measurement. A device like an earbud for that reason would be much better. The position of the ear-canal is a hotspot for small veins with lots of blood-flow and so this is a great place to retrieve optical signals. As the impact of motion on the head is also less compared to other parts of the body, the ear is a very good location for measuring vital parameters.
Since many elderly people suffer hearing loss, a hearing device is a great opportunity to combine with monitoring functions. This industry is looking at sensors to detect falls but also to detect heart rate, sleep quality or oxygen saturation levels.
The professional medical market for the moment is using patches the most. Medical patches make life for the patient more comfortable in the hospital but also for the caregiver providing medical care to the patient. A patch usually is wirelessly connected and so eliminates cables and wires to the patient. As a next step, these patches can go home with the patient, to monitor them after being discharged from the hospital. The most common functions measured with medical patches are heart rate and electrocardiograms (ECGs), blood-pressure, breath-rate, oxygen saturation and body temperature.
This summarizes the most important markets and use-cases for wearable products.

JM: Consumer wearables with health functions and medical wearables are getting closer and closer. How do you explain this trend? Will it reshape the industry?

JHB: It is a good observation that the consumer market and the more professional healthcare market are coming closer to each other. Companies working in the consumer market would like to offer more value and so add sensors and functions to their products to make them more feature rich and accurate. The ultimate aim is to get them qualified and have medical grade performance. Professional healthcare manufacturers, however, are working on monitoring solutions, with identical performance levels to bed-side monitors and patient monitors for critical care but integrated in a smaller form-factor and able to be worn on the body. With these changes, both markets are coming closer to each other. It is not clear if suppliers who initially started in the consumer space are taking over a certain part of the critical care market. This market is not easy to enter, and the products and systems need to be compliant with many standards and regulations. Backwards compatibility and interoperability are other important aspects, which are hard to achieve. There will be a market, however, for use-cases such as preventive care, elderly care and home monitoring, which can be perfectly fulfilled by suppliers that started their business in the consumer market. For that reason, we see the line between consumer and medical care becoming less clear.

Wearable - Analog Devices
Courtesy of Analog Devices Inc.

JM: With more functions integrated into wearables like audio, activity tracking, ECGs, and temperature, what are the key challenges for wearable makers with multiple parameters? How can Analog Devices resolve these challenges?

JHB: By integrating more functions and features there are two main challenges the designers are dealing with, namely size and battery lifetime. The third challenge is cost, however this is more critical for consumer and semi-professional applications, compared to devices for diagnostic and critical care.
With reference to size and battery lifetime there is always a direct relation. When size doesn’t matter, you can increase the battery capacity and so extend the battery lifetime of your system. In most cases however size is an issue. Think of earbuds, smart wrist-worn devices or bracelets. In these applications, there is not infinite space for a battery. So you need to design the system in such a way, that you achieve the maximum possible battery-life time for a single battery charge. Power-dissipation of the sensors and electronics for that reason need to be as little as possible. What also could help is that you run some pre-processing on the device to minimize the amount of data that finally needs to be sent to either a smart device, host-computer or to the cloud. Analog Devices is supporting a broad portfolio of high performance optical, bio-potential, bio-impedance, temperature and motion sensors which are freely configurable. The user has the flexibility to design either for high performance, low power or a mix of both. These sensors combined with ultra-high-efficient power management and battery charging and monitoring functions make Analog Devices an attractive supplier to partner with. Our most recently introduced multi-parameter bio-medical front-end is supporting various use cases in a tiny single chip. When an even higher level of integration is needed, we have the capability to support miniaturization with smart packaging, by stacking chips and adding passive components in a single micro module.

JM: What are Analog’s key solutions today? What is coming next?

JHB: When it comes to wearables, we are mainly focused on designing Analog front ends and sensors, to be able to retrieve vital parameters from either humans or livestock. It is obvious that humans are our focus and the recently introduced ADPD4100 is a good example of integration. This Analog front-end is optimized for optical measurements like heart-rate, heart-rate-variability or oxygen saturation measurement, it also supports other measurements, like bio-potential measurement for ECG sensing, bio-impedance measurement for galvanic skin response or bio-impedance analyses, and temperature and capacitive sensing. This single chip is fully configurable and able to support various measurements divided over 12 independent time slots. Other good examples are the optical modules like the ADPD144 or ADPD188. Designing an optical system requires a different skill set compared to designing an electronic circuit. To improve time to market, ADI designed a family of optical modules with integrated photodiodes, LEDs and analog electronics. Each module is optimized for a particular use case, like measuring heart rate at the wrist, heart rate in the ear or for oxygen saturation measurement. The combination of electronic and a good mechanical design make these modules behave superbly with respect to ambient light rejection and optical crosstalk. Since software and algorithms are playing a more dominant role, ADI is supporting also customers with drivers and algorithms to speed up time to market.

ADPD188 Optical Module - Analog Devices
ADPD188 Optical Module – Courtesy of Analog Devices Inc.

The ultimate is providing solutions to our customers. This is the reason that ADI designed a wearable platform, called Study Watch. The wearable has been designed as a wrist-worn device and is able to measure ECG, photoplethysmography (PPG), electrodermal activity (EDA) galvanic skin response (GSR), temperature and motion. The key differentiator of this wearable is that the user has direct access to the raw sensor data. Customers can either use the platform as a demonstrator to run their own algorithms and apps, or they can use the platform to collect data from human beings, such as during clinical trials. These trends will continue. We are still making semiconductors with individual functions, like amplifiers and data converters, but more customers are looking for a complete solution. Having access to our solution, they don’t have to start from scratch, but can continue designing a product with their brand, built on the foundation of our platform.

Study Watch - Analog Devices
Study Watch – Courtesy of Analog Devices Inc.

JM: Analog Devices recently acquired Maxim Integrated. How will this strengthen Analog Devices’ position in the wearable market?

JHB: ADI has announced the acquisition of Maxim Integrated. At this moment, we are not able to comment on any aspect for the proposed acquisition. We are in the process of regulatory review in countries around the world and until this has concluded we continue to operate as two independent companies in the marketplace. If you would like to have more information related to this topic, please have a look at ADI’s investor relation website.

JM: Are there any announcements or news you would like to share with our readers?

JHB: COVID has changed the world, and people have an interest in getting early warnings when certain body parameters are changing that could be a sign for having a disease or building up a chronic disease. Bio-chemical and bio-electric sensors can play an important role in these use cases. ADI has already a portfolio of analog front ends to support these measurements and more products are in development. These activities belong to ADI’s digital health strategy and if you would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of your Analog Devices representatives.


Jan-Hein Broeders  - Analog Devices

Jan-Hein Broeders is Key Account Manager and HealthCare BDM for Analog Devices in EMEA. He works very closely with the healthcare industry to translate their present and future requirements into solutions, based on Analog Devices’ market leading linear- and data converter technology as well as products for Digital Signal Processing and Power Management. Jan-Hein started in the semiconductor industry 25 years ago as an Analog Field Application Engineer and he has been 100% focused on healthcare since 2008. He holds a bachelor in electrical engineering from the University of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.


Jérôme Mouly - Yole Développement

Jérôme Mouly is Team Lead Analyst in the Sensing and Actuating team within the Photonic and Sensing Division at Yole Développement (Yole). Jérôme manages the expansion of the technical expertise and market know-how of the team. He actively supports and assists in the development of a dedicated collection of market and technology reports as well as custom consulting projects. He has conducted more than 100 marketing and technological analyses for industrial groups, start-ups, and institutes in the field of MEMS and sensing technologies. Jérôme has been also deeply engaged in Yole’s finance activities with a dedicated focus on the commercial exploitation of smart system technologies and access to funding opportunities. Jérôme is regularly involved in international conferences, with presentations and keynotes. Jérôme Mouly earned a Master of Physics degree from the University of Lyon, France.

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