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Wearables aren’t dead, they’re just entering a new phase

Wearables are far from being finished.

So… you know how everyone’s been saying wearables are on the way out, or already dead?

You should probably call off the funeral. If new projections pan out, the market for the gadgets is heating up, and it’s only going to get hotter.

Research firm IDC’s latest wearables report estimated that global wearable vendors will ship a whopping 125.5 million devices this year, a 20.4 percent increase from the 104.3 million units thought to have shipped in 2016. But this year is just the start of the wearable renaissance — IDC forecasts major growth in the space going forward, predicting that the international market will nearly double to 240.1 million shipments by 2021.

The year-over-year growth comes as the gadgets evolve from novelties to more fully realized, useful devices. The release of Android Wear 2.0 and the continued success of the Apple Watch, as it pivots to focus on health, are the two biggest examples.

IDC research manager Ramon T. Llamas thinks the segment is at the dawn of a new age. “Since the market’s inception, it’s been a matter of getting product out there to generate awareness and interest," he said in the release touting the report’s highlights. "Now it’s about getting the experience right – from the way the hardware looks and feels to how software collects, analyzes, and presents insightful data."

Llamas thinks the market will expand in the future as these next-gen devices are made available, giving wearers functions far beyond the quaint step-tracking of earlier wearables. He expects that the features on our smartphones will come to our wrists (and other places we can wear stuff) in the future, like AI assistants and network connectivity, while base prices drop.

So where will we wear these smarter, cheaper gadgets? IDC guesses that your wrist will still be the most common place to put your tech in 2021, with watches and wristbands taking up 88.7 percent of the markets. Notably, the firm projects smartwatches won’t perform as well as hybrid watches, so some of the shade that has been thrown toward them can be justified — at least until 2019, when cellular connectivity is expected to improve.

Image: idc

Other types of wearables will gain market share, too. Smart clothing could be the biggest space to see improvement, with an expected 76.1 percent growth rate.

Could there be even more growth?

There could be a wild card here to drive the success of wearables even further: Apple. The current king of the market’s best-selling Apple Watch could ascend to even greater heights if it continues to evolve into a health-first device.

The company is rumored to be developing an innovative new feature for the watch that could make it an essential medical device for millions of people around the world. Reports claim Apple has a crack team of medical experts working to develop a non-invasive glucose monitor, which could come in the form of a specialized band. Tim Cook himself was reportedly spotted wearing a prototype back in May, and he has talked about the potential for the space and Apple’s interest in its development.

If Apple can introduce the world’s first non-invasive glucose monitor for the Apple Watch, the wearable would likely shift in the eyes of consumers with diabetes from a gadget to an essential medical device. There are 422 million people in the world with the disease, according to the most recent numbers from WHO. All those people obviously aren’t guaranteed to buy an Apple Watch if it adds the new glucose tech — but they’re just one example of a massive new consumer base in this new age of wearables.

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