Apple watch smartwatch

The smartwatch could be something of a sleeper that’s about to wake up.

International Data Corp. projected total smartwatch shipments would rise just 3.9 percent this year, to 20.1 million units, as many of the new products in the market were launched either late in the year or represented modest updates on existing models.

But that growth’s expected to skyrocket, pushing unit volume to 50 million by 2020, with a total value of $17. 8 billion.

“To date, smartwatches have remained in the realm of brand loyalists and tech cognoscenti, but we expect that to change over the next few years,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables unit.

Llamas said the growth would be driven by designs that look and feel more like traditional watches, versions that don’t require cell phones to connect to cellular networks and lower prices.

Smartwatches, and wearable tech in general, have been simmering on fashion’s back burner for years, promising a big leap forward, but delivering largely niche items that fail to do much more than inspire the imagination.

Apple’s foray into watches last year seemed to be the best chance for a breakthrough. And although the Apple Watch quickly became the leader — IDC expects Apple’s platform, WatchOS, to account for just over half of total shipments in the category this year — smartwatches have yet to take over.

Fashion brands, perhaps sensing the same kind of growth that IDC is predicting, are marshaling their efforts to get into the budding category.

Michael Kors unveiled smartwatches this month, powered by Google’s Android platform and modeled after its own Bradshaw and Dylan styles, with interchangeable leather, silicon or steel wristbands. Fossil started off this year with a big push, and plans to roll out more than 100 connected devices in time for the holidays.

And last week, Apple cut the price of its initial Apple Watch and introduced an update, which is waterproof and includes a speedier processor, improved graphics, a brighter screen and its own GPS to track one’s movements without an iPhone.

IDC’s definition of smartwatches includes devices that can run third-party applications, such as the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Gear S3, Motorola’s Moto 360 and Pebble’s Watch.

The market intelligence and advisory firm said the broader wearable market, which also includes basic wearables such as wristbands, apparel would see unit volumes more than double from a projected 102.2 million this year to 224.4 million in 2020, for a five-year compounded annual growth rate of 23.2 percent.

In a relatively stagnant market for fashion, that counts as some serious growth potential.