What does 2016 hold for consumer wearable tech?

A mile of "mobile health" devices in a consumer electronics store

If 2015 was supposed to be the “year of wearable tech”, then what about 2016? “The true year of wearables” or the year in which early consumer devices like smart wristbands start to fade away?

Although there was a lot of hype around wearable technology during 2015 (take a bow, Apple), we saw the arrival of a bigger mega-trend that started eclipsing the whole genre of smart wristbands and smart watches … the Internet of Things.

IoT hype has taken over
During 2015 you couldn’t avoid the IoT – and stories of how it will revolutionize a wide variety of verticals, from farming through to solving the chronic traffic congestion problems in most major cities. The IoT and the ongoing digitalization of business process – sometimes even referred to as a key part of the 4th Industrial Revolution – effectively put an end to the hype of wrist-worn consumer smart devices alone.

Smart wristbands were the leading lights of what we’re calling the first wave of wearable technology (2013-2015), but will start to fade away in 2016. It’s increasingly hard to get excited about a new band – and we’re down to splitting hairs when it comes to new functionality.

A mile of "mobile health" devices in a consumer electronics store

A mile of “mobile health” devices in a consumer electronics store

Smartbands are morphing into “mobile health” devices
As smartwatches take over, with pricing down to US $150 for a wide range of models from fairly well-known brands such as Epson, ASUS, LG, Alcatel, consumers are increasingly wondering why to lay out $100 or more for a smart wristband.

That’s why some band manufacturers are starting to reposition their devices as “mobile health” devices that track your well-being, as you exercise, sleep, walk, etc.

But a word of caution to new vendors such as MOOVSo what if your new band is able to count “reps” or “talk to you as you work out” (we’d prefer music anyway). Only a very small percentage of people are actually going to use – or work out how to use – that functionality. You need more than just functionality to gain a foothold in this market.

Smart wristbands will be much cheaper in 2016
In the year ahead, we’re predicting that smartband pricing will tumble, especially for low-end devices such as the stalwart Fitbit Flex, which is still on sale for an optimistic $99 – because a newer Charge model can be picked up for only $10 more. Misfit has been taking the lead in steadily discounting its earlier models, making way for reasonably-priced newer technology.

Jawbone must cut its prices
Smart wristband pioneer Jawbone is desperately trying to hold on to a price premium for its bands. It has spread its range over no less than four devices, each with slightly more functionality, but still asks an astonishing US $199 for the range-topping UP4. That’s simply not competitive.

To survive and prosper in 2016 and beyond, Jawbone will have to slash its prices – we’d say down to a maximum of $100 – while also biting the bullet and introducing new models with an OLED display … or better still, a smartwatch?

Finally, a word of advice to anyone considering the launch of a new smart wristband in 2016 – make sure it’s got functionality such as RFID, and a display that at the very least, shows the time – because people don’t want to wear a smartband plus a watch, especially on the same wrist.

So where are the bright spots for wearables in 2016? We think that if it truly wants to succeed, wearable tech must blend in. We’ll explain more in the next post.

/WTW

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