The trick for wearables' success is all in the wristwear

Thanks to the Apple Watch, the wearable-gadgets market is poised to soar, says IDC.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Apple Watch could help the wearables market grow in the next several years. James Martin/CNET

The wearables market is set for rapid growth, due mainly to the gadgets you put on your wrist.

Wristwear -- products that include everything from smartwatches to fitness activity trackers -- will dominate the wearables market over the next several years, according to a new forecast from research firm IDC.

Total worldwide wearable shipments will reach 45.7 million this year, up from 19.6 million last year, IDC said Monday. Nearly 90 percent of that will be in the form of wristwear, at 40.7 million units.

Modular products -- devices that can be worn anywhere on the body with a clip or strap -- will nab less than 6 percent of the market with 2.6 million shipments.

The big spark for the growth will come from the Apple Watch, a smartwatch that goes on sale next month. Consumers as well as the tech industry have been anticipating the electronic giant's first foray into the wearables market since Apple CEO Tim Cook debuted the device during a star-studded event in September. Pricing for the device starts at $349 for the basic Apple Watch Sport version and goes up to $17,000 for the premium Apple Watch Edition. It goes on sale April 24 in nine countries.

"The Apple Watch raises the profile of wearables in general," said Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC's wearables team.

In February, research firm CCS Insight offered a similar prediction, saying that the Apple Watch "will be instrumental in taking the wearables market to the next level of growth," with worldwide wearable sales jumping in 2015 to, by its count, 75 million units worldwide.

Smartwatches have been available for several years from companies like Pebble, Motorola, Samsung and LG, but none has yet been able to attract widespread consumer interest. The Apple Watch will also compete against fitness band rivals like FitBit and Jawbone with its own fitness-tracking capabilities.

The next generation of activity trackers and smartwatches from MWC 2015

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Even as sales of wearables grow, though, gadget makers will have to make their products more than a novelty to achieve real mainstream success.

"While Apple's entry into the market is symbolic, the key to success will be to create compelling use cases for the average consumer," said Ryan Reith, program director of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Device Trackers. "Many users will need a good reason to replace a traditional watch or accessory with a wrist-worn device or some other form of wearable that will likely require daily charging and occasional software upgrades."

The Apple Watch works with the iPhone 5 line, along with the newer iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

IDC split its study into two parts: smart wearables and basic wearables. Smart devices, or those products that can run third-party applications, like Apple Watch or Motorola's Moto 360 smartwatch, will account for 25.7 million units this year, according to the research firm. Basic wearables will hang tough at 20 million units, despite having less functionality without those extra apps.

Although wristwear will dominate in 2015, IDC sees good times ahead for other wearable categories. Clothing, for instance, will become a fast-growth segment of the wearables market as companies embed shirts, socks, and hats with smart technology. And although Google Glass has been taken off store shelves for some rejiggering, IDC says that smart eyewear will grow over the next several years, jumping from 1 million unit shipments in 2015 to 4.5 million in 2019.

The research culminates in one important conclusion: the wearables market will grow significantly in the coming years. By 2019, IDC expects 126.1 million wearables to ship worldwide. Wristwear will continue to dominate that space at 80 percent market share, followed by modular products and clothing with 5.3 percent and 4.5 percent share, respectively.

Apple Watch keeps up with the times (pictures)

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