What to Watch in Wearables This Year


Over the past couple of years, wearables have hit the news headlines and the wrists of many consumers looking to monitor their vitals and ultimately, get healthier. Brands such as Apple have extended their range, with the launch of the Apple Watch and new brands such as Jawbone and Fitbit have been born out of the trend. Wearables aren’t going anywhere either. The market outlook is exceptionally strong with sales expected to increase from a baseline of $4.5 billion in 2014 to more than $50 billion in 2019.

One reason wearables are set to stay is that developers have only begun to scratch the surface of the technology’s potential.

Here are five trends to watch as the year progresses:

1.    Soul-searching on fundamental value delivery: Wearables have already proved they aren’t a fad and they can solve real-life consumer problems. Industry insiders are convinced wearables have staying power, but there’s evidence suggesting that while sales are sky high, many users toss their devices in the drawer after a few months. Following Fitbit’s IPO, analysts noted that while the company had 19 million registered users, only 9.5 were active. Wearable makers will do some soul-searching this year to identify consumer pain points and seek to solve them, to deliver value and keep users engaged.

2.    Industry consolidation and strategy retooling: Knowing that the stakes are high, companies are launching and rapidly retooling their wearables strategies. Nike announced it would focus on the software experience aspects of wearables instead of hardware development, looking at integration opportunities. Fashion brand Fossil also entered the wearables market with a line of smartwatches. And Under Armour is aiming to create an entire digital ecosystem around wearables. Look for bold moves from other key players in 2016.

3.    Moving beyond health and fitness into new verticals: Health and fitness monitoring apps have dominated the wearables space since its inception, but in 2016 and the years to come, look for the industry to increasingly explore other verticals including fashion, mobility and automotive applications. Hardware and apps that monitor driver attention and expand mobile capabilities have already made significant inroads into the space and will eventually become even more ubiquitous.

4.    Virtual reality innovations: Consumers are enthusiastic about the possibility of experiencing virtual reality via wearables and other devices but development has been slow for affordable, mass-produced VR devices — until Google launched Cardboard, an inexpensive smartphone-powered cardboard headset that gives users a taste VR’s rich possibilities. This year, additional VR hardware and software products will launch, including affordable wearables, as the space expands.

5.    Breaking through the battery barrier: One of the main challenges to widespread wearables adoption is the short battery life. Users also have to pair wearables with other devices and frequently charge them to access even simple functions. This lack of power has hampered development of more sophisticated applications. Some promising new technologies may resolve that dilemma in 2016, providing wearables makers an opportunity to enhance value and engagement with standalone devices. 

The common theme running through all of these trends is a search for greater value in the wearables space. In one sense, it mirrors the growth trajectory of the mobile phone market, which was originally focused on delivering a single capability to consumers and then morphed to fundamentally change the way people work, play and communicate. Something similar is at work in the wearables space, and as these five trends play out in the coming months, it will provide strong clues about the future of wearables in both the short and long term.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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