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Here, there, every wear: The state of the wearables market - PC Retail

Here, there, every wear: The state of the wearables market

As the wearable market heats up, Rob Horgan explores how the market started, where it is right now and what its future holds
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Smartwatches and fitness trackers along with an array of other wearable technology have been in the market place for some time now. While the first products – such as the original Apple Watch in 2015 and the Fitbit a decade ago – were heralded as the dawn of a new age of technology, the wearables revolution didn’t quite take off in the way we first expected. 

However with the rise of the internet of things and voice-powered technology, the wearables market has been given a second-coming. Combined with a whole host of new and improved smart products, from smart trainers to heart monitors, the market potential has never been so great. In fact, the wearables market was recently valued at around $14 billion by industry analyst firm CSS Insight and the company predicts that it will hit $34 billion in just over two years time. Its new global forecast for wearable devices indicates the market is set to grow from 84 million units in 2015 to 411 million units in 2019. 

While new wearable technology is introduced to the market on an almost daily basis, it is the ‘old’ favourites such as smart watches and fitness trackers that are still leading from the front. Despite its fair share of sceptics, Apple shipped over 12 million smartwatches last year while over 30 million smartwatches were sold during 2016, accounting for 60 per cent of the wearables market share according to Gartner.

And the wrist-worn wearables are likely to become more popular in the years to come. As wearable expert John Weir, COO at Evolve Media, predicts: “Smartwatches and trackers will continue to be the biggest sellers as the wrist is still the easiest place for the wearable at present. Technology has become much more personal. Fitness trackers and smartwatches have become mainstream consumer items and as price has decreased, so the functions of these devices has increased.”

He adds: “It will continue to grow, fuelled by innovation (particularly in the health and medical space) and by big brands like Apple, whose Watch is already outselling established watch brands. In the next 12 months, expect to see the new Apple Watch overcome its teething troubles with connectivity and herald in a new era for the smartwatch as an independent device.” 

However, Weir is not so confident about the future success of fitness trackers epitomised by Fitbit’s range of products. “Low cost fitness trackers as a volume model are probably going to struggle as there is much competition and not enough differentiation,” he said. 

But that is not to say that other product types cannot take advantage of the market space. Weir himself expects sleep trackers and heart-rate monitors to garner ‘increased sales over the next five years’, while he also expects augmented and virtual reality glasses to grab a share in the market.

Snapchat Spectacles, for example, have smashed internally set sales goals for the first year of trading. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that first-year sales of their smart glasses were over 150,000 units, some 50,000 units more than the company’s goal. Putting that figure into context, Spiegel proudly boasted that that number outweighs the number of iPod sales based on its first year of trading. And while Spiegel admitted that the numbers had exceeded expectations, he was quick to draw parrelells with the iPod, hinting at the heights he is hoping to achieve. 

“It’s out-sold our expectation. We’ve sold over 150,000 units,” Spiegel said. “Our goal was to see if we can sell 100,000, then at least people are open to trying a new way to make memories.”

The comparison with the iPod is certainly a bold one but it does hint at the potential Spiegel believes the market has. In fact, Spiegel used his speech to encourage designers – and investors – to think outside the box when it comes to wearable technology. “I think investors are fearful, and fear is a powerful motivator. They’re fearful we’ll never be profitable, or they’re fearful that competition will kill us or something like that,” he said. “But I think those are kind of normal fears for any start-up – and the really successful companies just grow through that. And that’s why we’ve just tried to stay focused on the business this year and deliver results.”

The smart glasses market as a whole is one that is expected to succeed and grow on the success of the Spectacles. Neil Bramley, Toshiba B2B client solutions business unit director of Northern Europe expects AR smart glasses to see the biggest growth within the wearables market in the next year. “The area of AR smart glasses is one in which we anticipate growth over the next 12 months, with such devices offering bespoke uses across a variety of industries from hospitals to manufacturing and energy,” he said. 

He adds: “The rise of edge computing is helping organisations transition to a more productive and secure era of mobile working in the age of IoT, as well as enabling new methods of gathering, analysing and redistributing data and derived intelligence. As the connected devices market, including wearables, continues to grow, so too must IT managers be able to address the vast amounts of data they bring before being able to securely and efficiently integrate them into the business. 5G’s impending arrival is also set to drive professional wearables adoption further in the coming years and, supported by edge computing, the functionality and capacity of smart glasses and other IoT devices will only broaden with this development.” 

Be it smartwatches, AR glasses or fitness and health trackers, the potential for wearable technology is enormous. If the market achieves the multi-billion dollar estimates being made by industry analysts then we can expect everything from our watches to our underpants to be made smarter. 

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