In the United States alone, the value of the wearable technology market is expected to touch $20 billion, by the end of 2018. While impressive in itself, the figure seems even more humongous when we consider that wearables were valued at around $1.9 billion in the country in 2013. With wearables being available at both ends of the price spectrum (from the $60-$70 Fitbits to the pricey Apple Watch), there is, predictably, demand from users from all age groups – with young adults leading the way. In today’s discussion, we will turn our attention on a few interesting wearable technology trends that have become rather prominent in 2016:
- Apple Watch to remain the revenue leader – In 2015, worldwide Apple Watch shipments brought in a whopping $5.5 billion – comfortably more than the revenue from the sale of any other wearable device. The smartwatch is already on a level-playing field with major Swiss watch companies, and Tractica has projected that Watch would become the biggest wristwatch brand by mid-2017. With Apple Watch 2 likely to launch sometime later this year (an announcement at the WWDC 2016 cannot be ruled out), interest in the smartwatch will remain buoyant.
- From awareness to consolidation to growth – That’s the journey of wearable technology over the last 3 years. Leading software and mobile app developers agree that it can now be safely concluded that the use of wearables is certainly not a fad. Fitness trackers, along with several other new wearable devices, hit the markets in 2014 (with a lot of hype, one might add), they got commercialized and gained traction among users in 2015 – and this year, the focus is gradually shifting from single-function wearables, to gadgets that can perform multiple things. Not surprisingly, the count of new applications for wearables is spiralling rapidly.
- Fitbit will stay as the top activity tracker, but there will be competition – A spike of 13% in adoption (between February and October last year) pretty much establishes Fitbit’s position as the most popular activity tracker out there. However, it will not have all its way over the next few years – with brands like Garmin and Xiaomi spicing up the competition. The latter, in fact, has a significant cost advantage – with the Mi Band being four times cheaper than the Fitbit Zip ($15 vs $60). The challenge for Xiaomi is reaching out beyond the Chinese markets (where it has a 97% market share). Garmin, on the other hand is the preferred activity tracker among US athletes – with 7 out of 10 athletes using it (according to a recent survey). If its positioning becomes wider, it can also emerge as a threat to Fitbit’s numero uno activity tracker position.
- More progress to be made on the smart clothing front – For a couple of years now, reports have been floating around in gadget analysis and mobile app development channels – about how various companies have already started working on ‘smart clothing’. Google, Samsung and Under Armour are some of the big names that have indeed started to foray in this domain, and although any major release is unlikely in 2016 – we should hear more about these over the next few months. With all due respect to smartwatches, the wrist is not always the best place for sensors for activity tracking – and ‘smart clothes’ will bridge that gap.
Note: Under Armour has already launched smart running shoes. The overall shipments of smart clothing is expected to reach 25 million by 2021.
5. Wearables are only just getting started – In spite of all the reports about burgeoning sales of smart wearables, those who make mobile apps and software maintain that wearable technology is still at a nascent stage even now. The potential for growth is huge – and over the next 5 years or so, we will see wearables to really spread its wings. The estimated CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) for the global wearable technology industry is a shade under 38%. At that rate, the total shipments will jump by almost 658% (560 million vs 85 million) and revenues will grow by a stunning 775% ($95.3 billion vs $12.3 billion) by 2021, over the 2015 figures. If you think that wearable technology is big already, wait and watch how it gets BIGGER in the next few years!
6. Smart Glasses will come back in a big way – Google Glass, for all its rich features, did not work. There is no confirmed report about when its second iteration will be launched. However, that does not mean smart glasses will not make a mark in the wearables market in 2016. Market analyzers and app-makers fully expect the Microsoft augmented reality (AR) glasses to make a splash, with monocular glasses in general, finding wide acceptance among end-users. The smart glasses developed by Epson should find takers as well. From logistics and manufacturing, to transportation and oil, gas & other utilities – there will be enterprise use of smart glasses on a large-scale.
7. The sleep factor – There are several wearable gadgets in the market already, that track the sleeping patterns of users in one way or the other. There is, however, a general consensus that the information they provide (duration of sleep, deep vs light sleep, etc) is pretty much like scratching the surface. In the next few quarters, ‘smarter’ sleep trackers – like the Nuyu Sleep System, which can change the body temperature of the wearer while (s)he sleeps – will arrive. Some of the key new functionalities that these trackers will offer include monitoring REM sleep and matching it with the heartbeat rate. The reports will be more comprehensive and insightful.
8. Android Wear will grow, but… – The problem of fragmentation (that bane of Android) will keep it pegged back. LG and Samsung are both doing well with their smartwatches, and they are directly competing with the Android Wear that Google is coming out with. This is working right into the hands of Apple Watch – which is retaining its market leadership position easily (as already highlighted above). The fact that it is set to become less reliant on paired iPhones, along with the promise of native Watch apps from June 1 at the store, will drive its popularity further.
9. Rise of the Holograph Headsets – HoloLens, MagicLeap and other such smart headsets are likely to lead the way for mixed reality headsets as viable computing tools for enterprises. The headsets will allow users to interact with the external world in a totally unique and innovative manner – and these will be at the opposite spectrum of most other wearables, which focus on knowing more about one’s own body (the Internet of Bodies (IoB), maybe?). Android and iPhone app developers also predict increased use of virtual reality (VR) in the domains of mobile entertainment and gaming.
10. Wearable technology for the elderly (with greater focus on healthcare) – The world is growing older. By the time 2048 rolls in, the senior citizen population (60+ years) will reach almost 2 million. With technology being increasingly implemented in the healthcare industry, it will be only natural that common ailments like diabetes and cardiac problems will be monitorable by the next set of cutting-edge wearables. App developers across the globe are working with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) algos and miniaturized hardware (not to mention a host of sensors), to integrate health monitoring features in wearable technology in the best possible manner.
11. Wearables to focus more on specific tasks – To put it in another way, ‘niche wearables’ will witness an upward trend in this year and beyond. The smartwatches will double up as a central hub for other wearable accessories, receiving data and generating reports for the users to view. Both Apple and Google are working on such single-purpose wearables – and gadgets like the $129 Netatmo June bracelet are already growing popular. The last couple of years had been mostly about app developers experimenting with as many sensors as possible in wearables – and things are likely to grow tighter in future.
12. More threats of security breaches – As technology in any sub-domain grows, risks of hack attacks increase as well – and wearable technology will not be an exception to this. The Bluetooth LE tool used in many wearables is, according to testers and mobile app developers, not the most secure – and there will be openings for spear-phishers to use the GPS data to send fraudulent, malware-infected emails to users. Intel Security Group has already predicted that several popular smart wearable gadgets will be ‘compromised’ within the next 2 years or so. In general too, as we move towards the realm of Internet of Things, security issues are becoming more of a concern. For enterprises, the focus will be on managing access levels in wearables with the help of improved network policies.
Bonus Trend: Over 26 million people will own smartwatches by the end of 2016. However, hardware experts and app developers feel that they will not become substitutes of smartphones anytime soon. For most users, smartwatches are still all about the fun and novelty factors, and in the foreseeable future, they will remain accessories of smartphones, nothing more.
Total integration and implementation of smart tools with the human body is the ultimate goal, and wearable technology – as we know it now – is paving the way for that. Wearables are on a fast track of growth, and they will pick up even more pace in the next 3-4 years.
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