Wearable devices with cellular connections that are not tied to smartphones will hit the market later this year, according to a senior AT&T executive. Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), said that factor will be key in sparking adoption of wearable computing devices.
"I think you will see devices like that this year," Lurie said while speaking Tuesday at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco, according to Re/code. He said fitness is one area where this could happen first, with a device sending fitness updates to a social network and playing music.
"It's going to happen in healthcare," he said. "It's going to happen in wellness and it's going to be terrific."
And which companies will make such devices? "I can't tell you that," Lurie said. Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) much-rumored iWatch is expected to focus on health and fitness.
Lurie said that wearables need to become simpler to use for more people to buy them. "Show me a device that's easy to use and looks clean — the reason we haven't seen millions and hundreds of millions [of wearables] sold is because we're not there yet," he said, according to VentureBeat.
"It needs to be an independent device. It needs to do something different for the end user, for people to buy it en masse," he said. However, Lurie added when companies figure out the right formula for wearables, the opportunity will be huge. "Just like tablets, it is going to all of a sudden explode," he said.
Indeed, research firm Juniper Research has forecasted that retail revenue from smart wearable devices, including smart watches and glasses, will reach $19 billion by 2018 compared with $1.4 billion in 2013.
That a wireless carrier like AT&T is bullish on adding cellular connectivity to more device is not surprising because operators will benefit from having more devices on their networks. To date, most wearables have come with Bluetooth connectivity that pairs them with a smartphone. Adding in a cellular data connection increases the cost and size of most devices, which is probably why many early wearables do not include cellular connections.
Another issue could be the difficulty in tranferring incoming calls between a phone and a wearable device. Lurie told Re/code the company is working on the issue. "That concept is one we have to solve," he said. "I can guarantee you we are working on it."
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