As CES 2017 opens its 50th anniversary show in Los Vegas, it’s worth asking – what happens to Wearables in 2017? We examined the wearable market back in September and it was a mix of good and bad news. The fitness tracker market expanded by 48% while smart wearables (that support third-party applications) fell 27%.
And by early December, the news was worse. IDC reported that Apple Watch sales fell by 71% in Q3 of 2016 (Apple won’t release sales numbers).
Remember how we were all so excited when Wearables first appeared? That is, until consumers decided they didn’t really need them.
The painful comparison to Smartphones
As Fast Company points out,
The smartwatch category as a whole has failed to connect with the general public. Since the start of 2015, approximately 35 million smartwatches have shipped, compared to 385 million tablets and 2.9 billion smartphones. ‘In 2016 . . . for every smartwatch shipped, 10 tablets and 78 smartphones will have been sold,’ Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart wrote in a recent research report.
In a graph the Wearable numbers barely register next to Smartphone sales.
Wearables in retail? Work? Education? It seems like the public can’t find a use for them outside of a workout. And SmartWatches are a nice accessory, but yet to prove themselves as a must have item.
The platform dependency of the devices is frustrating. I just switched from an iPhone to a Google Pixel so my Apple Watch is effectively neutered. I can use my phone with almost any network. But I can’t use my watch with any phone.
Wearables in 2017
With CES happening this week, we’ll see a flood of news for wearable technology. Despite the current market, it may not be so gloomy for wearables in 2017. Leaving aside the new product announcements for later, let’s see where Fitbit and Apple currently stand.
Fitbit has ended its legal tangle with Jawbone and grabbed what’s left of Pebble, the scrappy Kickstarter startup that produced some of the earliest Smartwatches. Many (including us) thought Fitbit would be vanquished by Apple. But their fitness trackers are cheap enough to be holiday gifts. And they’ve been innovative in doing company promotions for employee health programs.
If we learned one thing from music players and streaming services, technology doesn’t have to be perfect. If convenience triumphs quality, Fitbit has a bright future.
As for Apple, Fast Company continues:
Tim Cook said the Watch saw its highest demand ever over this holiday season, prompting some analysts to speculate that 4 million to 5 million Apple Watches will sell during the fourth calendar quarter of 2016.
We know Apple well – where there’s no market, they have the muscle and innovation to create one. SmartWatches may still take off, though we’ll never see Smartphone-like numbers.
Where it gets interesting is in building a new ecosystem around the smartwatch format. Here’s two examples of creative solutions that expand what the Watch can do.
The Apple Watch as a music player
The Watch is finally becoming a music player on its own. It pairs with Apple’s new wireless AirPods, though as Sean O’Kane noted in his Apple AirPod Review in The Verge, they don’t fit perfectly in everyone’s ears. And that’s a problem if you’re exercising. But you can use the new Beats Powerbeats 3 headphones which will definitely stay in place. For once, it might actually make sense to take your Watch and leave your phone at home.
The Apple Watch as a camera
The other accessory is the CMRA Camera Band for the Apple Watch from the Israeli startup Glide. It gives your Watch an 8-megapixel camera along with a second 2-megapixel angled toward you.
If you recall, Samsung tried this with the original Galaxy Gear (which didn’t do so well) but this is an incredibly innovative design. If it works as promised, you could leave your phone in your pocket for those Kodak moments and selfies. It’s somewhat surprising that Apple didn’t offer this feature.
What to watch for at CES
The Wearable tech crowd will be everywhere at CES this week. And we’ll follow up with assessments of the new product announcements shortly. Fitness trackers and Smartwatches are not game-changers and won’t move the market numbers. But augmented reality eyewear and wearable jewelry will change our relationship with technology.
Come the end of 2017, you may be wearing something more than a watch or a fitness band. And if that happens, it’s a whole new world.
Emory Craig is a VR consultant, writer, and speaker with years of experience in art, new media, and higher education. He is actively engaged in innovative developments for AR and VR at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling. He is fascinated by virtual worlds, AI-driven avatars, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.