The market for wearable devices continued its upward trajectory in the first quarter of 2015, with IT research firm IDC projecting that 72.1 million wearable devices will be shipped in 2015, up a robust 173.3 percent from the 26.4 million units shipped in 2014.
Vendors like Fitbit and Xiaomi have helped propel the market with their sub-$100 bands, and the report projects this momentum will continue throughout 2015.
"Low-end, or for us, basic, wearables typically bring a simple and straightforward value proposition to users, and for the most part, users get it. Just look at the success of health and fitness activity trackers," Ramon Llamas, research manager for wearables and mobile phones at IDC, told eWEEK. "The problem is that these brands struggle with staying power, and oftentimes find themselves heading to a drawer permanently. Still, this is just starting to take off and more markets are coming online with greater end-user interest."
As Ramon noted, smart wearables, or those capable of running third- party apps, are expected to take the lead in 2016, and he said he expects to see an evolution in software as the overall market evolves.
"Software has to move beyond health and fitness, easily," Ramon said. "But the market is still looking for the right applications. I can see things like mobile payments and notifications, but those, I believe, won’t be the silver bullet. If anything, let’s see more health and fitness applications, like body temperature, allergy monitoring, UV radiation, and so on."
Speaking to Apple's closely watched launch of the Apple Watch, Ramon said he is expecting an effect similar to that Apple had on the smartphone market, one that puts more attention on the wearables market with Apple’s very presence.
"The thing is, Apple has to deliver," he said. "My sense on the Watch is that Apple is being incredibly purposeful on its rollout and feature set so that it does not end up over-promising and under-delivering. It can test the patience of the most devout of Apple product owners, but it’s an approach that I admire."
While the market is still broad enough—and young enough—to support a wide range of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Ramon says the field of options will eventually narrow. Currently, the market ranges from high- end vendors like Apple to more specialty markets like Pebble or Fitbit. Middle market offerings are available from Google and Samsung. “It’s inevitable that the crowd will thin out, it’s just a matter of whom," Ramon said. "And yes, there is still plenty of room for competition too. We are in early stages and there is a wide range of companies – going from small start-ups to entrenched veteran companies – making a play at wearables. At the same time, expect a lot of acquisitions--just yesterday, Intel announced its intentions to acquire Recon Instruments--while others shake out."