Cashing in on wearables

Sue Marek

You can bet that wearables will be in the spotlight at the upcoming 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. I expect to see everything from fitness trackers to mobile health devices and more--all featuring some type of short-range wireless connectivity.

But most wearables today don't necessarily incorporate cellular technology. Nevertheless, wireless operators see them as being an integral part of their business model because every wearable device collects data that will likely be sent over the wireless network. In fact, during a recent call with investors, Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) CFO Fran Shammo said that he believes that every device will be connected to the wireless network in some form in the future, and that will drive more revenue for the operators.

Analyst projections for wearables are strong. IDC estimates that there will be more than 19 million wearables shipped globally this year, which is more than triple the volume over 2013. And by 2018 the research firm expects the market will grow to 111.9 million units shipped globally.

But there are many challenges yet to be overcome. Wireless modules need to be smaller and more affordable. In addition, battery life needs to improve to make these devices more functional.

Interestingly, even though wearables are a fairly new phenomenon, they are already starting to overlap and soon some categories will likely disappear. For example, fitness capabilities are starting to be incorporated into smart watches like Timex's IronMan One GPS+ that has cellular connectivity and is targeted at fitness buffs and athletes because of its ability to track speed, distance and pace in real-time and share performance metrics. This may signal the eventual end of fitness bands.

For mobile developers, the wearable market is a growth opportunity but one that must be watched carefully as there are many unknowns--like which wearables will resonate with consumers, who are already inundated with devices. Perhaps the best advice for developers is to look at those wearables that really enhance how people live.

FierceWireless has a new ebook devoted to the topic of wearables. The ebook delves into the wearable opportunity and looks at which wearables are most likely to have cellular connectivity. We also profile three new wearable startups that are making early inroads in this growing area. Click here to download this free ebook.--Sue