2014 turning point for wearable devices

Over 1 million smart wearable bands will be shipped globally by end-2013, with more smart wearable devices expected to hit the market next year as focus shifts to better design and power-efficient displays.

Over 1 million smart wearable bands will be shipped worldwide by the end of 2013, with more smart wearable devices expected to hit the market next year.

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Samsung Galaxy Gear

Research firm Canalys said more than 200,000 smart wearable bands were shipped in the first half of this year, and this number would climb by over 500 percent in the second half with the launch of Samsung's Galaxy Gear

The company's marketing efforts helped push Galaxy Gear shipments to over 800,000 units within the first two months of its availability, establishing Samsung as the new market leader, said Chris Jones, Canalys' vice president and principal analyst. 

He added that the Pebble smartwatch  also was seeing strong growth with its integration with iOS 7 and updated SDK with additional APIs (application programming interfaces), providing Pebble partners opportunities to increase the device's appeal "while maintaining its excellent battery life".

Canalys analyst Daniel Matte noted: "The market for smart wearables is extremely dynamic. This space is going to look very different in 12 months' time. A successful wearable device depends on the connectivity of a smartphone, which increasingly serves as the new digital hub for mobile users.

"Wearables entail a unique set of constraints for vendors and platform owners more experienced with the smartphone and tablet markets," he said. 

But while there has been much interest in this sector, available products have been limited. The good news is 2014 will be the turning point for smart wearable devices, Canalys predicted, offering growth opportunities to vendors, component suppliers, and developers. The research firm added that the market will see improved technologies next years, with significant developments in areas including systems-on-a-chip (SoC), health and fitness sensors, low-power displays, mobile operating systems (OSes), and materials and design. 

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It added that there were technological requirements and market gaps that still needed to be addressed. Current smartphone SoCs, for instance, are not designed for wearables and unable to provide the battery life consumers demand. "These components will need to be designed specifically for wearables, working alongside sensor hubs that help reduce power draw," Canalys explained. "The integration of new types of sensors not included in smartphones, such as those for heart-rate monitoring, will be another important trend."

More power-efficient displays are needed, hardware and software have to be further optimized, and mobile OSes should be streamlined for wearable devices. In addition, market players would start looking at more sophisticated materials and putting stronger emphasis on design.

Canalys believes many of these new technologies will debut in 2014, starting at the Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas. 

Various technology vendors also recognize the growth potential in wearable technologies and are making plans to move into this segment. ZTE, for instance, is planning to launch its own smartwatch in China in second-quarter 2014, before expanding availability to the U.S. and Europe. The Chinese networking equipment and smartphone maker sees smart wearable devices as the "big thing in the future", as mobile Internet access is increasingly essential for more people. 

Semiconductor vendor Broadcom also is positioning itself as an  adjacent partner with smartphone makers , and eventually be the gateway for wearable devices to communicate. It introduced a  new Wi-Fi framework for embedded devices .

Chinese search giant Baidu in October unveiled a site that features wearable devices running its OS, including a health monitoring wristband and smartwatch.