Analysts believe wearable technologies have to move beyond geek chic into truly fashionable, functional devices in order to have a spectacular year.
Looking back on 2014 gives Ben Wood everything he needs to determine that this is the year of wearables.
He should know. After all, he’s somewhat of a swashbuckler known for toting his sizable collection of wearable devices that he uses prolifically. He likes comparing them to new devices at industry events, such as the upcoming International Consumer Electronics Show.
Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, was just ranked #2 top influencer in wearable tech landscape to watch in 2015 by online measurement company Onalytica.
“Sure, we’ll see a lot of mediocrity from the Shenzhen [China] ecosystem and me-too knock offs with basic functions at low prices,” he said.
“But in 2015, we’ll see things shifting away from devices designed by and for middle-aged males, and things made of plastic, to more desirable, fashion-designed wearables like the MICA bracelet and items from designers such as Fossil.”
Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, stays ahead of the curve by getting his hands on gadgets and gear soon after they hit the market, including wearables such as last year’s Basis watch.
He said 2015 will be the year to see if wearables can commercially and successfully get beyond health and fitness into what he calls “horizontal” wearables with commercial applications.
“I believe that the most successful wearables in 2015 will be focused on narrow commercial use cases, more than likely a commercial use case,” he said.
He’s watching how eye wearables pan out in medical, law enforcement, assembly and maintenance applications.
Shipments of smart wearables are expected to grow from 9.7 million in 2013 to 135 million in 2018, according to CCS Insight’s new global forecast. The forecast predicts that wrist-worn devices will account for 87 percent of wearables to be shipped in 2018 — comprising 68 million smartwatches and 50 million smart bands.
Wood said 2015 will bring better technology and more diversity in designs to everything from clothing to jewelry and eyewear. These innovations will move wearable technologies out of the geek niches into more widely acceptable consumer areas, beyond health trackers.
“Google Glass has been experiment but in vertical markets there are huge implications for consumers,” said Wood.
Experimenting with new industrial uses from military to medical can help refine design and functionality. Wood mentioned a “connected police” wearable technology that showed promise, and sees great potential in heads-up displays like the Recon Jet.
“Wearable computing is a major, accelerating phenomenon that re-defines how we use and interact with information,” said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of the New Devices Group at Intel Corporation in a statement last year after Intel Capital invested in Recon Instruments.
The innovation race is accelerating and broadening, and this will lead wearables to become more fashionable, individual, invisible and just better technology, said Wood.
“Looking back five or so years ago when smartphones were hitting the mainstream, it was common for people to ditch their watches, since all they’d have to do was look at their phones,” he said. “But watches are back in a big way in 2015 with the rise of so-called smartwatches.”
Wood believes the Apple Watch could be perceived by many as a status symbol, which could potentially make it the most desirable piece of gadgetry we see in 2015.
“Yet I’m still not convinced why I would need to spend $400 on one,” he said. “But it certainly will contribute to a rising tide in wearables space. If you’re an Apple user, it could be right for you. If you’re an Android user, you’ll look elsewhere.”
Wood is watching for wearables that will contribute to a major medical breakthrough in 2015 or soon after. Biorhythmic data collected from personal health trackers could be crowdsourced and analyzed by datacenters or even supercomputers to find new treatments or even cures.
“Look at what’s going on around Parkinson’s, where wearables, cloud and data center technologies are being used together in search of better ways of managing the disease.”
Sure there will be heart-tracking smart bras and other clothes fitted with invisible intelligence that connect with smartphones and online accounts, but Wood is balancing his expectations after wearables captured maybe too much attention at last year’s CES show.
“We must not lose sight that we’re in the Stone Age of wearables,” he said. “There’s a lot of experimentation still going on to find what problems these things can really solve.”
One thing’s for sure, they’ll have to be desirable.
“I want to look at these and see WOW, so they have to look beautiful at CES,” he said. “That’s most important this year.”
Editor’s Note: For more on this and other stories from the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, watch the replay of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address.