“Is that an Apple Watch?” is a phrase likely to ring out in the spring of 2015 when the result of the company’s highly anticipated foray into wearable technology finally hits the shelves.
For Apple, the Watch is the first completely new product since the iPad and Steve Jobs’s death in 2011. Its initial success is guaranteed.
“Even if it only told the time, Apple is likely to sell millions of them with the first launch,” said Ben Wood, head of research at analysts CCS Insight. “Apple makes beautiful things and the Watch is beautifully engineered. Combined with its brand credentials it’s going to be a fashion statement and a status symbol with a much broader appeal than current smartwatches.”
But for market watchers it’s not what the Watch can do for Apple but what Apple can do for everyone else.
Wearable tech is not all about what springs from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. This year, Google joined Pebble, the pioneer of the modern smartwatch, with a plethora of Android wear. Google watches from LG, Sony and Motorola landed on users’ wrists from June – some attractive, others less so – while Samsung released not one but five smartwatches in 2014.
Makers of fitness trackers and smartclothing are vying to prove there’s life beyond smartwatches: more than 70m fitness wearables sold globally this year, seven times the number of smartwatches, according to Gartner research.
“I’m expecting smart wristbands like the Jawbone Up to do well this Christmas, as the capabilities and costs have come down to a level where they make good gifts,” said Angela McIntyre, a research director at Gartner.
Come January, all eyes will be on Las Vegas for the world’s largest technology trade show – International CES – where manufacturers from across the globe will be pushing their latest wearable gadgets hoping that something will catch punters’ eyes.
Crowdfunding platforms may also deliver some interesting wearables next year. According to George Jijiashvili, wearables analyst for CCS Insight, anything from a device to make a normal watch “smart” to wireless earbuds that track heart rate, activity and play music, all without a smartphone, are pitching for funding.
Technology researcher Gartner expects another 68m wearable fitness devices to be sold worldwide in 2015 as lower price gadgets make them more accessible. The Misfit Flash and Jawbone Up Move, for example, cost less than £50.
But it is advanced heart rate monitoring devices such as Intel’s Basis Peak and the Jawbone Up3, the follow-up to the successful Up wristband, that will power greater insight into fitness and sleep for many.
“Heart rate monitoring is likely to be the big thing in 2015 for most people looking at wearable technology,” said McIntyre. “It’s been around for the past couple of years, but it’s getting better, more affordable and has that cool factor, particularly around wristbands and watches.”
The Up3 has electrical skin sensors that promise to monitor health through heart rate, not while a user exercises but in the moments before and after falling asleep or waking up.
“That’s the only time when stress, caffeine and everything else can’t affect your beats for a true picture of how healthy you are,” said Jason Donahue, of Jawbone.
Chip maker Intel is also making moves in wearable technology. The Basis Peak fitness watch promises 24-hour heart-rate tracking using an optical sensor that shines a light into the skin. The Peak can monitor the crucial stages of sleep and the quality of a night’s kip using heart rate, rather than just quantity, as most others do.
Smartwatches will be in on the health and fitness tracking game in 2015 too. Most Google smartwatches have heart rate monitors and the Apple Watch will have one too.
Collecting all that data is useless if users can’t do anything with it, though. Google, Microsoft and Apple announced free health-tracking services this year, each aiming to help users understand their health data.
It promises to be the year where the number of steps you take and hours of sleep you get will generate meaningful suggestions, either for the user or their doctor.
Wearable technology will not be limited to obvious gadgets, and 2015 is predicted to be the year when smartclothing finally becomes a reality beyond light-up Christmas jumpers. Once the domain of elite athletes, smartclothing is slowly filtering down the high street.
Clothing brands such as Adidas, Under Armour and Ralph Lauren, which showed off its new smartshirt at the US Open tennis tournament, are starting to make sports tops with built-in heart-rate and respiration monitoring.
“Smartshirts can measure things like heart rate and respiration much more accurately and without having to wear another device, because they can embed more sensors across a larger area,” said McIntyre.
More than 10m smart garments are expected to be sold in 2015, displacing conventional chest straps and other sports enthusiast gear. Smartsocks, motion tracking underwear and light reactive jackets that glow the harder you train are in the pipeline.
Fitness is just one area being explored by smartclothing, with manufacturers envisaging GPS shoes, colour changing ties and smartphone charging jackets. Even beachwear could go smart with bracelets that track your desired tan level and swimwear that changes colour when you have had enough sun.
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