Spending on wearable kit is forecast to jump this year by roughly 18 per cent to $81.5bn, if analyst house Gartner is to be believed.
As Reg readers knows, "wearables" is a broad term that covers a disparate group of tech products, with the sole commonality that they're used while physically affixed to the user. Of these, the biggest category is "ear-worn" wearables, which are expected to account for nearly half of all wearable sales.
Again, there's some nuance here. Ear-worn wearables (sometimes called "hearables") refers to a diverse array of products, from high-end headphones, to the kind of headsets worn by those attending Zoom meetings from the comfort of their kitchen table, or in contact centres.
It's a broad swath of kit, covering consumer and enterprise. In total, businesses and consumers are expected to spend $39.2bn on these, compared to $32.7bn the previous year.
Ranjit Atwal, Gartner research director, said one of the major forces behind this spending comes from corporate buyers looking to kit-out their remote workforce. "There's an understanding now that having decent, sophisticated headphones is actually beneficial to both the employee and the business."
There's a caveat to that $39.2bn figure. It only includes devices deemed to have a "level of sophistication" and technology, as explained by Atwal. This means that cheaper commodity wireless headphones, which can be found on Amazon for as little as a tenner, are excluded from Gartner's estimates.
2021 will see the wristband-style form factor continue to slump in sales, largely at the expense of more sophisticated smartwatch devices. Sales came in at $5.1bn in 2019, fell to $4.987bn last year, are predicted to drop to $4.906bn in 2021 and to $4.477bn next year.
Conversely, the smartwatch market is rocketing, with an estimated $4bn in growth expected this year. The sector is expected to hit $25.8bn, up from $21.7bn last year. This growth is largely driven by Apple, with Google's Wear OS stagnating on the combined fronts of software and hardware.
Atwal said consumer smartwatch purchasing habits are still largely driven by fitness and health concerns. No surprises there. Every major smartwatch launch we've seen this year, from Samsung and Apple to Huawei, has hammed up the gymbunny-friendly attributes of their new products.
Gartner also expects great things for the more esoteric parts of the wearable market – from IoT-enabled apparel, medical smart patches used to measure vital health statistics, and head-mounted displays.
The latter segment, which includes virtual and mixed-reality gear, will be driven by industrial and enterprise use. Atwal noted that head-mounted displays have largely failed to ignite the market, with the category sitting within the "trough of disillusionment" for several years. (Stop sniggering at the back). 2021, however, is forecast to see sales in the category soar by nearly $600m to $4.05bn.
"We have tried to get lower costs. We've tried to get higher volumes of head-mounted displays into the home. But it really hasn't worked because the sophistication of the technology that's needed, and to scale that has proven to be a quite a difficult challenge to overcome," said Atwal, noting the lack of a real advantage for home users when compared to traditional forms of entertainment and computer interaction.
Smart clothing and smart patches are forecast by Gartner to grow to $1.529bn and $5.963bn respectively in 2021.