Apple Watch to Fuel Wearable Device Market, Gartner Says

Gartner expects adoption of smartwatches and other devices to ramp up in 2015 and beyond, but says design and competition from China will be hurdles.

Apple Watch

Apple's introduction this month of its Watch will help fuel what Gartner analysts say will be growing interest in the wearable computing device toward the end of this year and into 2015.

In a report Sept. 17, the analysts noted that nine of the top 10 smartphone makers are moving into the wearables market—compared with two such vendors last year—and that by 2016, smartwatches will make up about 40 percent of consumer devices worn on the wrist.

However, despite the expected growing popularity of such devices, vendors will face some challenges, ranging from balancing the competing factors of design and usability—around such issues as battery life—and growing competition from original design manufacturers (ODMs) from China, they said.

"Apple has finally unveiled its Apple Watch, which we expect to trigger more consumer interest once it starts shipping in 2015," Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner, said in a statement.

Other research firms expect the wearable device market to grow. IDC in April said more than 19 million wearable devices will ship this year, while ABI Research analysts in June said they expect 10 million activity trackers and 7 million smartwatches to ship in 2014.

And a growing number of system and component makers are eyeing the growing segment. Most recently, Intel officials at the company's Intel Developer Forum this month showed off a wide range of Intel-based wearable devices, from the MICA bracelets to BioSport In-Ear headphones to Basis smartwatches, as well as a bowl that can charge such devices wirelessly.

Like the MICA—which Intel developed with Opening Ceremony—Apple's Watch will be pricey, with the lowest-cost one starting at $349. (Intel has said MICA will be priced at less than $1,000.) That shouldn't slow down interest, however, McIntyre said.

"As with the iPhone, Apple's high-price strategy for the Watch will limit its market share; yet, with its attention to design and the user interface, we believe this product will attract many users," she said.

Devices based on Google's Android mobile operating system were first to come onto the market, with mixed results, according to Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner. However, she expects interest in these devices also to track upwards. The designs of the latest smartwatches are a step up over earlier ones, and give users an idea of the features that Android Wear will offer, such as voice search, turn-by-turn navigation and contextual reminders, Zimmerman said.

"The Sony Smartwatch products and the Samsung Gear were early products that received much attention in the press but less enthusiasm from consumers due to their unclear value proposition and flawed design," she said. "In 2014 we are seeing a few more positive developments in terms of design and user experience … and we therefore expect consumers to show more interest in these products in the second half of the year."