“Ready to wearable” is becoming a thing. And a healthy one at that.
In December, IDC estimated that wearables will hit 125.3 million shipments globally by the end of 2018 and reach 189.9 million over the following five years. Juniper Research was more optimistic, predicting up to 350 million shipments by 2020.
Either way, the projections tell a tale of growth, and they set up 2019 as a crucial year for laying important groundwork. Seeing the writing on the wall, tech and fashion companies are ramping up.
According to IDC, U.S. companies are refocusing from new customer acquisition to enticing existing users to upgrade. That’s why companies like Apple and Fitbit moved past mere step counts last year.
Apple turned the Apple Watch into a health tool, giving its Series 4 device heart-monitoring features. That’s just for starters, and it may not be limited to the wrist. For instance, its iOS 12 iPhone software came with a Live Listen feature that transforms AirPods into a hearing device.
Fossil hasn’t said if it will support health features, but if customers demand them, expect the watchmaker to head down this road — just like it did for mobile payments and GPS.
According to Greg McKelvey, Fossil Group’s executive vice president and chief strategy and digital officer, the company’s wearables broke $400 million last year and became its fastest-growing category. That’s more than a 30 percent increase, he said, “which is faster than the market is growing.”
The company plans to keep the momentum going, with more models offering Google Assistant, heart-rate tracking and notifications, among other things, “all the while delivering them with greater style and brand diversity than our competitors,” McKelvey said.
Wearable tech may be known for wrist gizmos, but it covers various devices, and Juniper Research believes big movements are afoot across several of them. Over the next couple of years, it expects major growth in connected clothing (102 percent), smart glasses (98 percent), smart jewelry (55 percent), hearables (31 percent) and smartwatches (31 percent).
With smart apparel topping the list, 2019 could be the starting point for new entries joining the ranks of Google and Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket, OMsignal’s smart bra with biometric tracking and the Spire Health Tag, which clicks into clothing for health monitoring, among others. Already, Nike, Under Armour and Microsoft have been developing technology for smart clothes.
Elsewhere, analysts seem especially enchanted with hearables lately — and for good reason.
When Apple ditched the iPhone’s headphone port, the move buoyed the wireless earbud industry, which began exploring additional features.
“When we think of hearables, we think of classic bluetooth headsets. But if we move beyond that, and fold in a ‘plus one’ functionality on top, we’ll be in really good shape,” said Ramon Llamas, research director of mobile devices and AR/VR at IDC. “Things I’ve heard of and seen are in health and fitness coaching. And what if you could change the audio, so in a crowded, noisy restaurant, you could tune everybody out and only tune into my voice? It would be like a hearing aid on steroids.”
Enamored by the thought of “bionic ears,” the tech sector has pursued such functionality for years. But those efforts were considered “geek fare” or for early adopters. But the tech has been maturing, and the market could see some real gains and soon.
Additions like voice assistants — such as Google Assistant or Siri — health monitoring through in-ear sensors and real-time language translation could up the game and pique consumer interest.
Whether it happens in 2019 or after remains to be seen. But it’s clear that significant steps forward are expected next year.
“That’s going to open up a whole new market,” Llamas said.