Where is the Momentum in Wearables in 2021?

James Hayward
graphic illustration showing smart clothing, a virtual reality headset, smart watch, headphones, fitness tracker and people running over a background of a world map and charts
Over the past decade, wearables have progressed from a niche curiosity on the fringes of the consumer electronics sector, to being a key strategic element for many of the largest technology companies in the world. The total market for wearable technology products has doubled in annual revenue since 2015, generating nearly $80bn in revenue in 2020. However, with momentum, product trends, and focuses shifting all the time, it is important to stay ahead of the competition and consider the trends which will drive the sector over the coming years and decades.
Wearable products face many similar challenges, such as the need to fit comfortably on the body, in a comfortably wearable size, whilst also having a battery life that is appropriate for their use case. They need to tread the line between practicality and fashion - either looking good enough to be attractive for customers to wear such that additional features can be enabled or useful enough that negatives around encumbrance or appearance are outweighed. However, despite these shared features, individual product types within wearables are increasingly independent of each other when it comes to the major players, themes, and market trends. Some of the major trends and progress across each of the main product types are considered below.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers have been the flagship product type within the whole wearables sector, and have seen outstanding and lasting growth over the past decade. IDTechEx's report predicts that the annual revenue for these products will reach nearly $30bn in 2021, which is a 10-fold increase in market size since 2014. This growth has continued despite the pandemic, with personal health becoming increasingly important and users being further incentivized to adopt these products. The players behind these products are developing towards the integration of increasingly medical metrics, building on the step counting and simple heart rate monitoring of the past to provide more detailed and valuable metrics related to vital signs and acute health monitoring. Several smartwatch players already integrate more advanced cardiac metrics, and ambitions remain about a range of new targets, from chronic disease monitoring to general vital signs monitoring and diagnostics.
Hearables as a sector is perhaps the most similar in terms of adoption and maturity. This sector is a mixture of the old and new, with more mature markets such as hearing aids and wireless headphones facing disruption from a new generation of products. True wireless stereo (TWS) headphones have risen from nothing as recently as 2015 to capture 55% of the total revenue share for hearables in 2020. In parallel, brand-new regulation has also initiated a new product sector around over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids, which could enable significant innovation and disruption to the status quo in hearing health. Add trends around the integration of biometric monitoring, as well as the constant challenges of size and comfort vs features, performance, and battery life, and this sector sits as potentially the most dynamic and fastest-changing across all of wearables.
Sitting more independently, but certainly with no less attention, is the virtual and augmented reality product space. Continued ambition and investment from some of the largest technology companies and investors in the world drive this sector forwards. With historic and continued access to huge funding, but still relative commercial infancy, the players involved are heavily invested in deep technology development, driving for improved performance and better overall experiences, with the aim to eventually open up markets proportional to the effort and investment so far.
Moving beyond the more mainstream sectors, IDTechEx also covers the spectrum of electronic skin patch products on the market. This has had a significant success of its own, with revenues forecasted to pass $10bn per year in 2021. With most applications centered around healthcare and wellness, this product sector is largely separated into broad therapeutic areas such as diabetes management, cardiology, and others. It has seen a particular acceleration during the pandemic, with enhanced incentives around new remote patient monitoring devices, and accelerated product roll-outs due to emergency regulatory exemptions due to the pandemic. This has also seen some of the most activity in terms of funding and M&A in the past year and involves some of the most emphatic and lasting success stories from the entire wearables sector.
The final key sector covered by IDTechEx's report portfolio is smart clothing and e-textiles. This has an undoubted longer-term opportunity, but also prominent shorter-term challenges around industry standards, supply chain maturity, manufacturing scalability, and product economics. This said, there are many successful companies, including both start-ups and larger players who have carved out growing and profitable niches within the hugely diverse product and application sectors involved. With coverage of over 250 companies acting in this space over the past decade, IDTechEx's content in this area aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the evolving industry landscape.
Outside of these main sectors, there are many other unique wearable technology products. From products such as chest straps or wearable cameras to newer areas like smart contact lenses or advanced implants, each is represented in datasets and case studies throughout IDTechEx's wearable technology report portfolio. The "master" report, "Wearable Technology Forecasts 2021-2031", provides full datasets for revenue, volumes, and pricing across 55 product areas, with historic data from 2010-2020 and market forecasts from 2021-2031. The sections in the report serve as comprehensive qualitative and quantitative summaries for each key product sector, all supported by the full datasets. Then, for companies only interested in more detailed content about individual sectors, IDTechEx has separate comprehensive reports on Hearables, VR, AR & MR, Electronic Skin Patches, and Smart Clothing, as well as many complementary reports on a specific technology or product sectors which are related to these. Finally, all of the content, as well as full access to IDTechEx's evolving and historic database of company interviews and presentations on the topic, are available via IDTechEx's comprehensive subscription services.
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