Seeing all the summaries from Mobile World Congress 2016, like this one that asks “Where are the wearables?”, sparked a thought about where the wearables market stands today compared to the mobile phone market. The wearables category is certainly one of the highest growth areas in tech today with growth projections from 40% and up over the next few years, depending on whose numbers you believe.
Wearables get a huge amount of attention because of their broad potential and they get criticism for not reaching that potential fast enough. But as Lauren Goode at Re/code says “We have not yet reached peak wearable.”
However, it’s important to remember we are still in the early stages of growth, technology development, and user experiences in all forms of wearables.
In fact, the majority of the early growth in wearables has been in simple activity trackers.
The next phases of growth in wearables will come from more advanced biometric wearables and hearables that deliver more compelling experiences on an ongoing basis. And this applies across many different sectors where wearables are making an impact, including personal health, industrial/enterprise, gaming, and many more.
Which brings us back to the comparison to the mobile phone market development. If we were to look at how the mobile phone form factors and user experiences evolved over time, I’d say that wearables are now in the ‘flip-phone’ stage of development.
Wearables have certainly evolved from the equivalent of the brick phone (early pedometers), but the smartphone of wearable tech has not hit the market yet.
Improvements are being made on several fronts:
- Wearables have more capability, both from a technical perspective and in terms of data integration to other platforms (although there are parallels with the lack of standardization in the early mobile phone markets as well).
- Wearable form factors are getting smaller following the same pattern mobile phones did – and notably enabled by the mobile supply chain (h/t Benedict Evans).
- Wearables are starting to look better. Wearables by definition are devices that people wear on their body, which inherently makes a statement (implied or otherwise) about the wearer. The combination of improved form factors and the general public becoming more accustomed to people wearing technology is certainly helping the adoption of the devices.
However, in other respects the wearables market looks like the pre-smartphone market:
- Similar to flip phones that “just” made phone calls (and some early SMS and texting), the vast majority of wearables today still only do primarily one thing – track general activity levels. In a sign of wearables moving past the flip phone stage, some wearables and hearables are starting to support more advanced use cases with GPS, heart rate and other biometrics, activity recognition and coaching, and more insightful analytics and personal health guidance. You’ll see this continue as consumers continue to expect more from wearables (and, for that matter, all our technology).
- The gasoline on the smartphone fire that really accelerated growth was the development of app stores. It’s not clear in wearables what the equivalent of the app stores in terms of growth acceleration. Ironically, it could be when wearables gain their independence from mobile phones for most of their advanced functionality.
It’s unlikely you’ll see a relatively linear progression in the development of more capable devices in basically the same form factor. Wearables will likely evolve in many different directions and forms supporting many different “killer apps”. There is still a great deal of technology innovation and market development dynamics to play out in the near future for wearables. We are happy to be part of it.