Those betting big on wearable computing believe an assorted new crop of gadgets — mostly worn on the wrist or as eyewear — will transform the way in which we interact with the rest of our devices.
But wearables won’t just complement smartphones. What is perhaps most intriguing about them is that they will serve new purposes too. Because they are designed to be worn close to the body, they’re ideal for monitoring our vital signs and health. They’ll track how active we are, our sleep quality, how many steps we take during the day. Consumers of all sorts — fitness buffs, dieters, and the elderly — will come to rely on them.
Or… will they?
Overall consumer awareness is still low.
Speculation on the future market for wearables devices is a confusing mix of skepticism and hype.
In a new report from BI Intelligence, we make sense of the muddle and analyze various growth forecasts for the wearable computing market, explore the products and prospects of each component market – including bracelets, smartwatches, and eyewear, examine the various barriers to entry for each, and look at how wearables could bring along new platform wars.
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Here’s a brief overview of the wearable computing market:
Market sizing estimates vary: According to IMS Research, the wearables market is poised to grow from 14 million devices shipped in 2011 to as many as 171 million units shipped by 2016. In a more recent estimate, ABI Research pegs the wearables market at 485 million annual device shipments by 2018. We believe this number is too high because of the uncertainty surrounding eyewear and smartwatches. We see global annual wearable device unit shipments crossing the 100 million milestone in 2014, and reaching 300 million units five years from now.
Bracelets: Right now, driven by their aptness for fitness and medical uses, bracelets dominate the wearables market. Even if wearable computing doesn’t go mainstream, smart bracelets will always have a place in the burgeoning industry for smart medical devices, according to IMS Research. We believe fitness and medical wearables, taken together, will account for roughly 60% of the wearables market this year, and even a larger share in the future.
Smartwatches: Like fitness bands, they are employing wireless links — invariably, Bluetooth — to link up with a smartphone. But instead of collecting information, like most fitness bands, watches will display it. Promoters of smartwatches also highlight the fact that users will no longer have to constantly reach into their pockets for a smartphone — an action becoming more awkward as phone screen sizes grow. But we see the advantages of a smartwatch display over a smartphone screen as minimal.
Eyewear: In contrast to virtual reality, augmented reality lets you see ambient information while interacting with the real world. The most ambitious wearable product aimed at the consumer mainstream is Google Glass. Marketers see great potential in Google Glass. They are already familiar with augmented reality since they have experimented with print materials that are readable by smartphone applications and can create complementary ad experiences on-screen.
In full, the special report: