Wearable technology has already attracted many of the headlines at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, but can this technology provide the boost the industry is looking for in 2014?
So far, wearable technology has tentatively disrupted the fitness, healthcare and entertainment industries. Mild success, heavily slanted towards exercise-focused companies, could swell should demand grow and a competent general-use product emerge. For now, though, a compelling lack of urgency surrounds product debuts, as too many good alternatives exist to make wearables indispensably important — Why move email from your pocket to your watch? Mediocre reviews of early (non-fitness) wearables like the Samsung Gear also curbed interest.
Attention at CES is split between automotive, wearables, and to a slightly lesser extent robotics, according to Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group, speaking from the event. He believes wearable tech needs more time, especially as it’s currently missing a leader. “What really made smartphones [go] up and up was the iPhone, we’re missing an Apple to really open the segment up,” he says.
Data on wearables indicates the industry has legs. Retail revenue from the sale of smart wearable devices came to $1.4 billion this year, and will increase by more than 1,250 percent to $19 billion in 2018, according to a report from Juniper Research. The company stated smart wearable device shipments will reach 130 million in five year’s time. Another firm’s projections are even rosier for the sector: IHS predicts 210 million wearables will hit the market in 2018, generating $30 billion in revenue. The research firm said revenues for 2012 stood at $8.5 billion from the sale of 96 million devices.
Perhaps spurred on by these figures, international giants now eye the wearables industry, with some making it a priority. Intel’s new CEO, Brian Krzanich, linked the future of his company with wearables, announcing concepts for smart earbuds, watches and headsets at CES. The company will face major competition from blue-chip challengers like Sony, LG, Qualcomm, Apple, Intel, Samsung and Google, with each company racing to stake their claim in a market without a leader.
The impact devices have on the market will depend on how refined the underlying technology becomes. Sensors that distinguish bodily processes beyond heartbeats will greatly augment wearables’ use in tracking activity and leveraging data. Watches, glasses and other machines have much more ground to cover, however, before they go mainstream. Many companies won’t choose CES as a launch party venue for new products, because of the event’s reputation for building hype that can sometimes leads to market disappointment.
Wearable technology launches are always good for a headline and attract the eye of consumers looking for the next big thing, but analysts predict wearables this year will see incremental upgrades and 2.0 editions rather than the introduction of a market-revolutionizing product. These products will make more of an impact in years to come, but the real revolution of 2014 will come from elsewhere.
Five of the most prominent wearable launches
Google Glass: Starting in April, 2013, users paid $1,500 for Explorer status glasses, becoming beta testers of Google’s device. Since then, Google has launched Explorer Edition 2.0 and the world has watched and waited for the space-age specs, perhaps far more passionately than any other wearable.
GlassUp: Perhaps Google Glass’ most compelling competitor, GlassUp showed CES its prototype. The company aims to differentiate from Glass on price and design by charging less than Google and crafting its product to blend in (future iterations will look more like regular glasses). As of now, GlassUp has raised $100,000 via crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo.
Galaxy Gear: Debuting in September 2013, this first smartwatch to market was greeted by a less than stellar reception. Compatibility hampered usability, as upon its inauguration, the watch only acted as a conduit for two devices, the Note 3 and 10.1 — meaning if a customer bought the Gear blind, they purchased a useless mini-computer.
FitBit + Tory Burch: The way to a broader market’s heart seems to be through fashion. Fitbit, which experienced moderate success with its wearables, now teams with preppy fashion icon Tory Burch to create new accessories including necklaces, wristbands and bracelets. According to analytics company Terapeak, in the 90 days before July 31, 2013, Fitbit sold 6,400 Flex’s, generating $721,831 in revenues.
Pebble Steel: Gossip on the Pebble upgrade indicates the watch’s new, stylish hardware that’s less Jetsons than Jaeger-LeCoultre appeals even to those not originally in the market for wearables. Underneath new Gorilla Glass, the Steel keeps most features intact from its first iteration. All apps from the first Pebble work on the Steel, and Pebble will deploy its appstore by the end of this month.