Thanks to Apple Watch, smartwatch sales could hit $11.5 billion this year

Apple's smartwatch is leading to the popularity of wearable devices as a "lifestyle trend," says research firm Gartner.

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The Apple Watch is triggering greater interest in smartwatches, says Gartner.

Apple

The Apple Watch may be just what the smartwatch market needed.

Smartwatch unit sales will jump from 30 million last year to 50 million this year and 66.7 million in 2017, Gartner said in a research note released on Tuesday. The industry can thank Apple for the anticipated surge, according to Gartner, as the Apple Watch has been "popularizing wearables as a lifestyle trend."

Launched last April, the Apple Watch is one of the most high-profile products in wearable tech. It's spurring interest in smartwatches, Gartner says, not so much because of its features but because of its aesthetics. It's a fashion statement.

Other companies trying to lure in smartwatch buyers include Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sony and Pebble. Even fashion watch icon Tag Heuer has joined the craze by launching its own "connected watch" last November. The Apple Watch has enjoyed a substantial lead over the competition, research firm Canalys said last November, generating sales of almost 7 million units over the prior two quarters.

Gartner's crystal ball sees smartwatch sales rising in growth 48 percent from 2015 through 2017. Revenue is projected to hit $11.5 billion in 2016 and $17.5 billion by 2019.

Though the industry as a whole may benefit from Apple's cachet, its smartwatch was ranked tops for its cool factor, according to a released last October by Juniper Research. Among 21 wearable devices, Apple was No. 1 for coolness, followed by Samsung, Google, LG and Sony.

Apple has been mum about actual sales figures for its smartwatch, lumping the device into a more general category that includes products such as iPods. Revenue for that segment grew 62 percent to $4.4 million last quarter. CEO Tim Cook said simply that Apple Watch sales set a "new quarterly record" and were "especially strong" in December. Analysts surveyed by Fortune believe Apple sold 5.5 million Apple Watches during the December quarter.

The Apple Watch comes in three different flavors with a range of price tags -- the Sport version starting at $349, the Apple Watch version starting at $549 and the Apple Watch Edition starting at $10,000. Apple will reportedly update its smartwatch at an event on March 15, according to 9to5Mac, unveiling new bands and software.

Sales of electronic wristbands, which include activity trackers and similar devices, were roughly on par with those of smartwatches last year, Gartner said. Moving forward, smartwatches are expected to generate more consumer demand since they can be multifunctional, tracking your health and fitness the same as activity bands.

Overall, Gartner predicts wearable electronic devices will ring up unit sales of 274 million this year, a jump of 18.4 percent from the 232 million units sold last year. But that number includes smart garments, chest straps, head-mounted displays, body-worn cameras and even Bluetooth headsets. That growth should yield total revenue of around $28.7 billion this year.

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