Wearables shipments will nearly double by 2021, research firm IDC predicts, reaching 222.3 million units. Its latest report shows wearable devices are expected to reach 113.2 million units by the end of this year.
The wearables market is still dominated by watches and wristbands, but more form factors have emerged in the category, including earwear and connected clothing. The addition of these devices has helped bolster the wearables segment overall, especially as compared to the consolidating smartphone segment.
"Users can expect a wider array of devices going forward," said Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC's wearables team. "These won't necessarily replace the wearables we have today, but other products that we use on a regular basis. Traditional earphones will give way to smart earwear that feature fitness tracking, audio augmentation, or personal assistants. Clothing ... will become smarter with health and fitness tracking, particularly for professional athletes."
Basic wristbands like the Xiaomi Mi Band or Fitbit Charge have been the best-selling wearables to date, but IDC anticipates low single-digit growth in this category through 2021. Meanwhile, watches are on track to take the lead and are expected to grow from 61.5 million in 2017 to 149.5 million in 2021. The increase is in part tied to more vendors entering the market and the addition of cellular connectivity.
IDC predicts that earwear will account for just 2.4 percent of wearables shipments by 2021, but the elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack from smartphones could be a catalyst for the category over time. And while there should be some growth in the market for smart clothing -- see Google and Levi's smart jacket -- IDC notes that the category could struggle because of limited use cases and high price points.
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