IDC projects wearables market to grow 20 percent in 2017

By Heather Mack
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For all the debate over the staying power of wearables – with some writing them off as a fad inevitably headed towards obsolescence like countless other types of consumer technology – the market doesn’t seem to line up with those concerns. According to the International Data Corporation’s last check, the demand for wearables is actually expected to grow.

In 2017, the IDC estimates vendors will ship a total of 125.5 million wearable devices, representing an increase of more than 20 percent compared to 2016. By 2021, that figure is expected to nearly double.

“The wearables market is entering a new phase,” IDC Wearable’s team research manager Ramon T. Llamas said in a statement. “Since the market’s inception, it’s been a matter of getting product out there to generate awareness and interest. Now it’s about getting the experience right – from the way the hardware looks and feels to how software collects, analyzes, and presents insightful data.”

Even though connected watches initially hit the market with less-than-stellar reception from the public, wearable makers have been redoubling their efforts in that category as of late. That shouldn’t be expected to taper off soon, the IDC data shows, with that category projected to lead the wearables category. And while those that aren’t running with third party applications are expected to outstrip smartwatches, the IDC expects increasing cellular connectivity to give smartwatches a boost by 2019.

It’s the promise of better connectivity that is driving wearable adoption in the first place, and making such devices a cornerstone of personal health management. A few weeks ago, an extensive report from Ericsson predicted that 5G connectivity will be increasingly important in healthcare as patients start to demand more connected care through wearables, apps, and telehealth. Wearables have also enjoyed increasing use in clinical research, even in spite of debates over their accuracy.

Wrist bands, in general, will taper off. Once the leaders of the pack, the decline seen at the end of 2016 will continue. Devices that are cheaper and with decent enough features for a mass audience will offer some buffer, but the IDC expects users to transition to the burgeoning watch category.

Smart earwear and clothing are also expected to grow, thanks to low-cost manufacturers in China and a growing embrace of connecting clothing by professional athletes. IDC noted the upcoming release of the Jacquard-enabled jacket from Levi’s and Google to be a game-changer in this category.

As the market matures and evolves, Llamas said consumers should expect to see devices and integration they may have not previously considered to be part of the wearables category.

“What this means for users is that in the years ahead, they will be treated to second- and third-generation devices that will make the today’s devices seem quaint,” Llamas said. “Expect digital assistants, cellular connectivity, and connections to larger systems, both at home and at work. At the same time, expect to see a proliferation in the diversity of devices brought to market, and a decline in prices that will make these more affordable to a larger crowd.”