News around the impending death of wearables – Fitbits, Apple Watches, trackers, smart watches and the likes – may be a little premature if a new report showing the global market grew by 16.9 per cent (or 102.4 million devices) in 2016.
The report by global tech analyst firm IDC found that rather than shrinking – as many had predicted – the market grew on the arrival of a number of new players, namely in the luxury/fashion brand category.
In 2016, also proved that there is more to wearables than just wrist-worn devices. Ear-worn devices (hearables) surpassed 1 per cent of all shipments for the first time in a quarter and sensor-laden clothing accounted for more than 1 per cent of the entire market for the full year 2016. Though these numbers were small, they show promise as numerous devices are expected from notable vendors in 2017.
Early on, the market was bifurcated between smart wearables – those capable of running third party apps – and vasic wearables, which lack this ability.
However, despite the additional features and tech available on smart wearables, their utility and necessity has been questionable at best. In the past few months, two major platforms, WatchOS and Android Wear, have pivoted towards fitness and health applications. This is no accident, as that has been the only use case with any “stickiness” and the ability to run third party apps has taken a backseat.
Commenting on the study, IDC’s research manager Ramon Llamas said: “Basic wearables started out as single-purpose devices tracking footsteps and are morphing into multi-purpose wearable devices, fusing together multiple health and fitness capabilities and smartphone notifications. It’s enough to blur the lines against most smart wearables, to the point where first generation smartwatches are no better than most fitness trackers.
“Meanwhile, smart wearables are also evolving,” Llamas said. “Health and fitness remains a major focus, but once these devices become connected to a cellular network, expect unique applications and communications capabilities to become available. This will also solve another key issue: freeing the device from the smartphone, creating a standalone experience.”
Beyond the top five vendors are new entrants, including fashion icons like Fossil along with their sub-brands and emerging companies like BBK and Li-Ning, that are tapping into niche segments of the wearables market. In the case of Fossil, this happens to be as a luxury/fashion device, while BBK focuses on child-monitoring devices, and Li-Ning on step-counting shoes.