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No stopping wearables momentum

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The worldwide wearable device market (commonly referred to as wearables) will see continued growth as second- and third-generation iterations reach the market. These new devices will build upon the hardware and software of their predecessors and answer some of the shortcomings and concerns that potential customers have today.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, the worldwide wearable device market will reach a total of 111,1-million units shipped in 2016, up a strong 44,4% from the 80-million units expected to ship shipped in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 214,6-million units, resulting in a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28%.

“The most common type of wearables today are fairly basic, like fitness trackers, but over the next few years we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types,” says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analogue counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities.”

One of the most popular types of wearables will be smartwatches, reaching a total of 34,3-million units shipped in 2016, up from the 21,3-million units expected to ship in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 88,3-million units, resulting in a five-year CAGR of 42,8%.

“In a short amount of time, smartwatches have evolved from being extensions of the smartphone to wearable computers capable of communications, notifications, applications, and numerous other functionalities,” notes Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “The smartwatch we have today will look nothing like the smartwatch we will see in the future. Cellular connectivity, health sensors, not to mention the explosive third-party application market all stand to change the game and will raise both the appeal and value of the market going forward.

“Smartwatch platforms will lead the evolution,” adds Llamas. “As the brains of the smartwatch, platforms manage all the tasks and processes, not the least of which are interacting with the user, running all of the applications, and connecting with the smartphone. Once that third element is replaced with cellular connectivity, the first two elements will take on greater roles to make sense of all the data and connections.”

Apple’s watchOS will lead the smartwatch market throughout our forecast, with a loyal fanbase of Apple product owners and a rapidly growing application selection, including both native apps and Watch-designed apps. Very quickly, watchOS has become the measuring stick against which other smartwatches and platforms are compared. While there is much room for improvement and additional features, there is enough momentum to keep it ahead of the rest of the market.

Android/Android Wear will be a distant second behind watchOS even as its vendor list grows to include technology companies (ASUS, Huawei, LG, Motorola, and Sony) and traditional watchmakers (Fossil and Tag Heuer). The user experience on Android Wear devices has been largely the same from one device to the next, leaving little room for OEMs to develop further and users left to select solely on price and smartwatch design.

Smartwatch pioneer Pebble will cede market share to AndroidWear and watchOS but will not disappear altogether. Its simple user interface and devices make for an easy-to-understand use case, and its price point relative to other platforms makes Pebble one of the most affordable smartwatches on the market.

Samsung’s Tizen stands to be the dark horse of the smartwatch market and poses a threat to Android Wear, including compatibility with most flagship Android smartphones and an application selection rivaling Android Wear. Moreover, with Samsung, Tizen has benefited from technology developments including a QWERTY keyboard on a smartwatch screen, cellular connectivity, and new user interfaces. It’s a combination that helps Tizen stand out, but not enough to keep up with AndroidWear and watchOS.

There will be a small, but nonetheless significant market for smart wristwear running on a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS), which is capable of running third-party applications, but not on any of these listed platforms. These tend to be proprietary operating systems and OEMs will use them when they want to champion their own devices. These will help within specific markets or devices, but will not overtake the majority of the market.