The next computer consumers buy will fit on a wrist or sit atop a nose. At least that is what many tech companies are hoping.
But even though more companies are offering wearable devices, it is far from certain that people will buy and wear the products in great numbers anytime soon. Both smartwatches and connected glasses must overcome several hurdles, analysts say, before mainstream consumers welcome them into their everyday lives.
For one, most smartwatches and glasses look far less fashionable than the accessories they mimic. For another, they often have mediocre battery life, making them unsuitable for wearing all day. And in general, they can be costly, running into hundreds of dollars, even though their features are often limited or still a little buggy.
“We’re still in the experimental stages of the wearable market,” said Henry Samueli, chief technical officer of Broadcom, which makes wireless chips for mobile devices. “But at some point one of them will stick and consumers are going to love them, and everyone else is going to copy it.”
The wearables category is expected to be highly lucrative. Gartner, the research firm, estimates wearable computers, including shoes, tattoos and accessories, will be a $10-billion market by 2016. The research company says that much of the revenue will come from accessories with health applications, like devices that count your steps or do things like automatically deliver insulin for diabetics.
Only a few makers of wearable computers will cross the finish line, said JP Gownder, a technology analyst for of Forrester Research. But he said that he had no doubt that wearable computers would become a mainstream product, as the smartphone is today.
“There is definitely a hype bubble — admittedly — but there was a hype bubble around the internet in 1999 as well,” he said. “We’re in that same stage with wearables, and at the same time they are going to be very real.”