Wearable devices and their associated software applications are destined for increased adoption. Part of an emerging market of apps within the Internet of Things (IoT), these devices will generate significant amounts of user data that will further fuel an expansion of the mobile cloud phenomena.
Worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 110 million by the end of 2016 -- that's a 38.2 percent growth over 2015 market performance. An expanding lineup of vendors combined with consumer demand will generate double-digit growth, culminating in shipments of 237.1 million wearable devices in 2020, according to the latest worldwide study by International Data Corporation (IDC).
The rapidly evolving market will also be driven forward by the proliferation of new and different wearable products. Watch and wristband growth will reach a combined total of 100 million shipments in 2016 -- that's up from 72.2 million in 2015.
Other form factors -- such as clothing, eyewear, and hearables -- are expected to reach 9.8 million units in 2016 and will more than double their share by 2020. This will become the foundation for new experiences, use cases, and applications going forward. Still, IDC believes that a primary focus of the wearables market will be on smartwatches.
Wearables Market Development Trends
"Although smartwatches like the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices capture the spotlight, they will only account for a quarter of all wearables in 2016 and will grow to about a third by 2020," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC.
"By creating smarter watches, vendors also stand to side-step some of the typical challenges that smartwatch platforms face," added Ubrani. "There's no need to create a developer or app ecosystem for one thing, and there's plenty of room for simpler devices that appeal to the average user while smartwatches continue catering to the technophiles."
Meanwhile, smartwatches with an application software developer ecosystem -- such as the Apple watchOS and the Google Android Wear -- are expected to gain further salience in the market as both products and user experiences evolve.
Smartwatch Software Platform Highlights
Apple's watchOS is likely to see some slowdown in the early part of 2016, as anticipation builds for the second generation device. However, with newer hardware and an evolving ecosystem, Apple will remain the smartwatch leader through the majority of the forecast period.
Android Wear remains in second place as its list of partners grows and the platform further integrates into Google's larger ecosystem. The recent Google decision to limit UI differentiation may stifle further growth, but this could have a positive side-effect of forcing brands to compete on design and price, appealing to the fashion conscious, the budget conscious, or both.
Adding Android-based smartwatches to Android Wear would push the category into first place in 2020. However, Android smartwatches are expected to remain a small portion of the overall market and will likely do better in emerging regions, as local vendors attempt to differentiate themselves.
Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) -- primarily used as a proprietary operating system but capable of running third-party software apps -- will become the third largest smartwatch OS, largely driven by gains in emerging markets and its use by Chinese ODMs.
Appealing to consumers looking for a cheap alternative, according to the IDC assessment, RTOS devices will likely see relatively high adoption though the user experience will likely be sub-par by comparison.