Despite lingering questions about utility and desirability, the wearable technology category is still gaining steam.
International Data Corp.’s Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker projected shipments of 110 million units this year, growth of 38.2 percent from 2015. The research firm expects double-digit expansion throughout the 2015 to 2020 period, with annual shipments rising to 237.1 million.
The company said watch and wristband device shipments will hit 100 million this year. Wearable-tech clothing, eyewear and hear-able shipments are seen totaling 9.8 million this year and set to more than double by 2020.
Not long ago, wearable tech was mostly in the imagination. Now it’s gaining credibility, but is still trying to find its place in a market overflowing with technology.
“Although smartwatches like the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices capture the spotlight, they will only account for a quarter of all wearables in 2016 and will grow to about a third by 2020,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “It’s time to start thinking about smarter watches — traditional watches with some sort of fitness or sleep tracking but are unable to run apps — built by classic watch makers. These devices have the potential of making the technology invisible while still integrating themselves within day-to-day activities.”
Traditional watch brands have jumped into the wearable market, with Swatch, Fossil and Tag Heuer smartening up their offering. Activity tracker firm Fitbit has also been trying to up its fashion quotient.
Ubrani said vendors could avoid some of the typical smartwatch challenges by making more intelligent devices or by keeping it simple.
“There’s no need to create a developer or app ecosystem for one thing [with smarter watches], and there’s plenty of room for simpler devices that appeal to the average user while smartwatches continue catering to the technophiles,” Ubrani said.
The research group said the Apple Watch is likely to see some slowdown during the first part of this year as users wait for the second-generation device, but also noted that Apple is expected to be the smartwatch leader for some time.
Android Wear watches remain in second place. The forecaster said: “Google’s decision to limit [user interface] differentiation will stifle further growth — unlike its success in smartphones — but this may have the positive side effect of forcing brands to compete on design and price, appealing to the fashion conscious, the budget conscious, or both. Adding Android-based smartwatches to Android Wear would push the category into first place in 2020. However, Android smartwatches are expected to remain a small portion of the overall market and will likely be relegated to emerging regions as local vendors attempt to differentiate themselves.”