There is a growing consensus that one of the biggest tech trends for 2014 is wearable device innovations. In a recent report, Frost & Sullivan finds wearable devices will make a bigger splash in 2014 following several launches last year including smart watches and Google Glass.
But is this more hype than fact. Not according to several market researchers that believe wearable devices open a door into new services, particularly around health and wellness. Ninety million wearable computing devices are projected to ship in 2014, driven by sports, healthcare and fitness applications, according to ABI Research.
Activity trackers are expected to be the most popular wearable device as more consumers monitor their activity levels and energy output, particularly due to concerns around weight management, according to the ABI report. Also helping to build out the use-case for activity trackers are the collection and analysis of the personal performance data through related websites and communities, the report revealed.
This doesn't mean the commercial launches of several smart glass products and smart watches won't drive interest, they just won't be a significant commercial success in 2014, according to ABI Research. More than two million smart glasses are forecast to ship in 2014 followed by rapid growth from 2015 and onwards.
For now, ABI analysts believe the enterprise sector will be the early target for smart glasses before mass-market adoption. Some of today's adoption obstacles include pricing, battery life and style.
In terms of revenues, the consumer wearable electronics market, including wireless devices, smart watches, activity trackers, smart glasses, wearable GPS and heart rate monitors, is estimated at more than $8 billion in 2013, growing to around $20 billion by 2017, according to the latest research from Futuresource Consulting.
"Many wearable devices are currently companion devices to other smart devices, in particular smartphones," said Oliver Rowntree, research analyst at Futuresource Consulting, in a statement. "It's likely this will largely remain the case over the forecast period."
Researchers agreed fitness devices are the most mature product in this market. "Fitness devices are by far the most mature market, making up 97 percent of the projected value in 2013, though this will fall dramatically as smart watch and smart glass categories develop and products ship with embedded sensors that track and analyze movements and activity, cannibalizing some the functionality of dedicated fitness products," stated Rowntree.
Over the forecast period of 2013 to 2017, Futuresource Consulting expects the most significant growth segment within wearables will be the wireless watch and smart watch market pegged at only 0.9 million units in 2013. Smart watches account for more than 60 percent of these units.
Like ABI Research, Futuresource doesn't expect a big market for smart glasses in 2014. The researcher forecasts less than one million smart glasses will be sold this year, reaching almost seven million in 2017, with a total retail value of $2 billion. But, analysts reiterate that this will depend on a large number of big CE brands entering the market by 2015.
"The next twelve months will be a critical period for the acceptance and adoption of wearable devices," said Joshua Flood, ABI senior analyst, in a statement. "Healthcare and sports and activity trackers are rapidly becoming mass-market products. On the flipside, wearable devices like smart watches need to overcome some critical obstacles. Aesthetic design, more compelling use cases, battery life and lower price points are the main inhibitors. How vendors approach these challenges and their respective solutions will affect the wearable market far in the future."
Component manufacturers are answering the call. "Chipset vendors are beginning to pave the way with interesting wearable reference designs that will allow non-technology OEMs and brands to quickly jump upon the wearable device bandwagon and bring diverse, innovative, unique, and stylish solutions," according to the ABI report.
Case-in-point: MEMSIC, Inc. offers a wearable connected watch development kit for a variety of wearable consumer electronic applications with connectivity to Apple and Android platforms, including health and fitness and sports devices. The microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensor manufacturer claims the MMW-SDK is the first of its kind connected watch development kit, which simplifies the integration of sensors by providing all of the required calibration libraries and sensor fusion software.
The SDK also provides a wireless connection to another mobile device, which further simplifies the development and integration process.
The same is true of other sensor and passive component makers. As an example, PNI Sensor's (PNI) Motion & Measurement (M&M) modules is an integrated platform that is designed to provide accurate motion and heading measurement in wearable fitness devices, smartphones, video game consoles and TV remote controls. In addition, PNI’s top-of-the-line sensor fusion algorithms run on the sensor-agnostic SENtral motion co-processor and don't require any algorithm or software licenses, delivering true plug-and-play for design groups of all sizes, according to the company.
In another example, Murata Americas launched its XRCGD series of quartz crystal resonators that are said to meet the strictest frequency tolerance requirements for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and radio frequency/baseband applications. Designed for wearable and handheld electronic devices using wireless communication functions, these devices can benefit from the size offered by the quartz crystal resonators in a 2016 package, said Murata.