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Today’s wearable devices will likely experience the same rise and descent as products like the Flip camera or the single-purpose e-reader, Forrester Research predicts in its latest report.
Wearables “will flourish all through 2015 until 2016 when their functionality is assumed by other devices you are already carrying anyway, from obvious contenders like smartphones to more intriguing ones,” writes Forrester analyst James McQuivey. An example of possibly more intriguing tech would be sensor-laden headphones, he says, which suggests a “strong reason for Apple agreeing to buy Beats Electronics for $3 billion.”
There are a handful of reasons why McQuivey says still-new wearable tech will go the way of the e-reading market in the U.S., which the research firm believes will shrink from a mature market of 25-plus million owners in 2012 to a mere seven million owners by 2017.
The key reasons:
- The tech is too easily disrupted: “Any company with an interest in acquiring a particular customer base can consider investing in the category.”
- “Hardware itself becomes decreasingly important while the relative value of the software services escalates,” McQuivey writes. In other words, gadgets might get you a first date, but it’s good software that will keep you coming back.
- Broadly speaking, the rapid rise of a standalone device nearly guarantees a rapid fall.
Wearables isn’t the only category Forrester calls out for having a potentially short life cycle; it also covers augmented and virtual reality tech, consumer-focused 3-D printing and home automation gadgets.
“Home thermostats and smoke detectors are single-purpose devices currently being brought into the digital age thanks to significant investment from well-funded backers like Google,” McQuivey says. “But because they are single-purpose or narrow-tasked devices, they are likely to eventually be rolled up into more complicated multipurpose devices and software-based services.”
Keep in mind, wearable technology is such a new category that some of the data around it is still likely a) statistically insignificant, b) highly speculative, c) focused on specific categories (fitness trackers vs. smartwatches vs. Google Glass, or should they be one and the same?) or d) all of the above.
For example: Earlier this month, a survey of U.S. smartphone users conducted by Opera Mediaworks showed that only a small percentage of people use fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit or FuelBand — about 3.6 percent of men and 1.7 percent of women.
Meanwhile, back in January, Forrester said around five percent of U.S. online consumers reported using a wearable device to track their activity levels.
Also! In June ABI research put out a report that said 10 million activity trackers and seven million smartwatches will ship this year, driven by Google’s and possibly Apple’s entrance into the market.
Is that good or bad? Well, if you believe the Consumer Electronics Association, which said 10.3 million health and fitness devices (excluding smartwatches) were sold in the United States last year, it’s not so hot. The CEA also says those figures are expected to reach a combined 29.5 million shipments per year by 2017, whereas Forrester is predicting a decline by then.
So you see, all we really know at this point is that we don’t know much. And that many of my first-gen fitness trackers are enjoying the dark of my drawer right now. And if someone would like to develop a wearable device that helps me keep track of all of this analyst data in the coming months, I’m all ears and eyes and wrists and whatnot.