Hopes were high for a wearable tech boom in 2016. The burgeoning market was poised to capitalise on the widespread adoption of ever smarter smartphones.
However, at the end of 2016, some of the industry players who had been at the forefront of both brand and device awareness have either left the wearables scene or struggled to maintain a profitable foothold within it. One-time indie startup darling, Pebble, was bought out by industry-leader Fitbit last December.
Lenovo’s Motorola brand abandoned their smartwatch efforts on the eve of (the oft delayed) Android Wear 2.0’s 2017 release. The industry-leading Apple Watch continued to disappoint at retail. While the optimism for a strong wearables market in 2016 may have been somewhat overdone, there was an overall increase in wearables sales.
This, combined with the rollout of the Android Wear 2.0 platform, a growing financial interest in IoT-related technologies, the popular embrace of the fitness tracker market, and a blossoming (albeit niche) tech-focused maker culture would suggest that the wearables market is far from dead in the water; rather it is just the end of the beginning for wearables.
Here are some of the high profile Wearable developments we expect in 2017:
Android Wear 2.0
Android Wear 2.0 rollout has just started to happen. Google has invested resources and development time to pack features and function into the smartwatch interface.
Most notably, The Android Play store has a smartwatch-exclusive version that is compatible with the most popular mobile apps and services. This is clearly an effort to reposition Android-powered smartwatches as essential productivity devices and not merely expensive, novelty gadgets.
Apple Watch 3
In contrast to Google’s opening salvo to kick off 2017, rumours are swirling that Apple is poised to strike at the year’s end with a new Apple Watch. A lot will likely depend on how well competitors Google, Fitbit and Garmin chum the waters of public demand. If there is another year of cooler growth in the wearables market, Apple could just as easily shelve their plans until 2018.
Regardless of when Apple rolls out a new model, they are going to need to shake things up to recover from the paradox that was the critically acclaimed, yet poorly selling Apple Watch Series 2.
Meet the makers
A long-shot in the wearables market may pop up in the maker space. With the rise of affordable system-on-a-chip devices like the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero and the C.H.i.P. $9 computer, makers are crafting devices that fill the void left by disappointing (or prohibitively expensive) commercial wearable products. Combined with power and display options that continue to fall in price, this small community is beginning to demonstrate the power of innovation and open-source collaboration in impressive ways.
While the maker movement may not be able to solder and 3D-print the ‘traditional’ wearable industry into obsolescence, expect the industry leaders to start paying a lot more attention to what the tinkerers are doing, in an effort to focus their own innovation resources moving forward.
Will this year deliver?
If 2016 taught us anything, it is that there is a market for wearable tech, but that market is going to take time, substantive iterations on the parts of industry leaders, capital investment in the continued improvement of small form-factor processing power and battery technologies, and price points that can bring more consumers to the table. But the real spark to reignite the excitement in Wearables will come from new kinds of wearables products that are genuinely useful to end users.
2016 should serve to temper 2017’s expectations in the wearable space. In doing so, it may open the door for a more honest conversation about development and a renewed focus on what consumers are truly looking for in the next round of wearables.
What developments in the wearable space are you most anticipating? Share your thoughts in the comments below!