Wearable Technology Has Arrived, Finally!

by Sohini Bagchi    Apr 11, 2014

wearables

Wearable technologies might be at its early phase right now, but according to new data from research firm IDC, it will soon become a booming industry. By the end of this year, over 19 million wearable devices will ship worldwide, tripling last year’s figure, says the research firm. Wearable shipments will generate a 78.4% CAGR between 2013 and 2018, eventually hitting 111.9 million worldwide shipments by the end of the aforesaid period.

Earlier this year, research firm Gartner also predicted that wearable computing gadgets are quickly moving into mainstream as the market grew from 3% in 2012 to 13% in 2013, and is expected to be dominated by the fitness and personal health areas, which should reach $1.6 billion in 2014 and $5 billion in 2016.

Read: Gartner’s top IT predictions for 2014

Types of wearables

In the new research, IDC divides wearable computing gadgets into three types. The first one includes complex accessories that are designed to operate partially independently, but unveil their full potential when connected with devices like smartphones, tablets, or a PCs. Best examples of such devices are Nike+ FuelBand, Razer Nabu, Jawbone UP, and Fitbit devices.

Smart accessories fall under the second category. These have same dependence on other devices as in case of complex accessories, but they also allow users to add third-party applications that boost features and functions. A good example of this category is Samsung Gear 2 family of smart watches that are based on Tizen operating system.

Read: India To Become A Huge Market for Wearable Tech

The third type, smart wearables according to the research firm can function with full autonomy, independent of any other device except to access the Internet and Google Glass belongs to this category. This according to the analyst is a relatively nascent market.

Complex accessories have succeeded in drawing much-needed interest and attention to a wearables market that has had some difficulty gaining traction,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager of mobile phones at IDC.

“The increased buzz has prompted more vendors to announce their intentions to enter this market. Most importantly, end-users have warmed to their simplicity in terms of design and functionality, making their value easy to understand and use,” he said.

Challenges ahead

Despite the predicted growth and the already growing number of products in the wearable tech space, the analyst firm highlights two key problems for the market of wearable accessories. The first one is high prices of actual devices and scarce availability of software that can expand their potential.

Experts however opine that the prices will inevitably drop once the production volumes get higher. this can only happen when accessories become popular or when a company will deliberately increase manufacturing volumes and cut the down prices.

Most people will not adopt wearable technology because it is the latest technology. Rather, they will adopt it because it serves a purpose and offers a solution, states IT analyst Anshuman Das. He believes the problem a lot of wearable tech companies have is that they’re trying to make their products attractive to a wider audience. For example, everyone may not see a need for Google Glass the way skiers would want with GPS, real-time tracking of speed and other performance data and weather information or even doctors to monitor patients’ intricate needs.

Read: Wearable devices will redefine mobility

Gartner also emphasized that decisions have to be taken when it comes to security or else there may be advanced breaches in security. Google Glass has already seen a number of legislations to regulate how and when people use the technology.

Das believes because of the nascent market, there has to be some ground rules set for what these wearable devices can and cannot do in certain situations.

Who can be trusted?

IDC surveyed over 50,000 consumers across 26 countries to see which company they believe is the most trustworthy wearable device maker. Samsung was voted as the lead, followed by Apple, Sony, and Google.

As IDC points out, Samsung has stood out from the rest of the pack in wearables, offering devices in the relatively nascent market. Apple is yet to prove its stance in this market, as it has not launched any wearables until now.

The big question for the industry right now, however, is whether smart wearables, like Google Glass, or other products that can function without the help of another device, can succeed.

IDC is optimistic, but has set some limitations. It claims that the “complex accessories” category will remain the most popular one throughout 2018 due to low price, ease of use and obvious benefits. The “smart accessories” class will gain momentum through the forecast period and surpass complex accessory shipments by 2018.

Since “smart wearables” (that includes Google Glass) provide very different user experience and may cost a lot, IDC does not make any predictions, but claims that developers of such products “must convince users to shift to a new user experience while offering them a robust selection of third-party applications.”