Health to drive wearables market to $1.5B by 2014

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 2, 2012        

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Fitbit Zip Fitbit OneA new report from Juniper is the latest in a flurry of forecasts about the role that smart wearable devices, or wearables, are going to play in the mobile technology market over the next few years. Juniper says wearables will be a $1.5 billion market by 2014, up from just $800 million this year.

Some of that drive is from “multifunction” devices like Google’s Project Glass and a similar product rumored to be in development by Apple. And those forthcoming devices, due out in 2014, are part of why Juniper has singled that out as a “watershed year” for the industry – Google Glass is slated for release in late 2013 or early 2014, and patent filings suggest a 2012 timeline for similar products from Apple.

But Juniper analyst Nitin Bhas says mobile health is leading the trend in driving those numbers, especially because many mobile health wearables are already on the market. In particular, fitness technology like Nike+ and Fitbit tracker is growing rapidly. The Juniper report predicts fitness and sports devices will outsell health devices, but the health sector will have slightly higher retail value.

Other reports that have been released this year tell a similar story. ABI predicted in February 2012 that there will be 90 million wearable fitness devices by 2017, and another 80 million health-related ones.

In August, an IMS report predicted that the wearable device market would be worth a minimum of $6 billion by 2016, another two years after Juniper’s estimate. IMS pointed to continuous glucose monitors as the dominant health care category and predicted they would continue to dominate that market.

Overall, the IMS report seems a bit more optimistic than Juniper’s, but a lot will depend on whether multi-function wearables like Google Glass take off or whether they flop.

“There are, of course, inherent challenges in forecasting a market which is early in its life-cycle,” Bhas said in an email. “While Juniper Research has questioned key players on their expectations of the market for both their own projects and the market as a whole, we believe that only when several commercial roll-outs are underway can adoption rates be ascertained with a high degree of certainty.”

Forrester and GigaOm have both also released reports earlier this year that looked at some of the many possible facets of wearable computing, which go beyond monitors and headsets and into the realm of smart clothing. Forrester mentioned clothing that reacts to emotions and vibrating tattoos, while the GigaOm report highlighted haptic scarves for therapeutic purposes, and mobile phone controls that could be built directly into clothing.

The Juniper report also looked at military wearables, such as dual-focus contact lenses that could incorporate heads-up displays in combat situations. Due to the sensitive nature of military technology, those numbers aren’t included in the forecast, but military technologies often trickle down into the civilian sector.

Will wearable tech like Google Glass completely replace handheld mobile technology? Bhas says that due to the rise in cloud-based computing, it’s possible that wearable interfaces will be all you need.

“Wearable devices such as smart glasses will indeed integrate cloud computing with a content provider’s servers, resulting in enhanced consumer content and activities.” Bhas said. “We expect this device category to follow the trend displayed by the convergence of smartphones, music players and digital cameras.”