Fitness and activity trackers are the largest product category within wearable tech, a market segment enjoying robust growth with 19 million wearables sold this year and boasting a 54.7 annual growth rate that will propel wearable shipments to 168.2 million by 2019, according to a new Berg Insight report.
But smartwatches are quickly catching up and are expected to overcome fitness and activity tools, hitting 90 million shipments in 2019, a huge increase from this year's 5 million units. In comparison shipment of fitness and activity trackers are expected to hit 42 million in five years, according to the report.
Such smartwatch consumer adoption and market expansion is taking place as devices become cheaper, as well as more powerful and autonomous, Johan Svanberg, Berg senior analyst, told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email.
"This [growth trend] will provide users with further options for mobile computing and smartwatches will probably replace the smartphone for some of us. But we will in the near term still need a combination of devices providing the right balance of battery life, mobility, screen real estate, computing power and convenient data input methods," he says, citing input tech as everything from keyboards to gesture.
Berg envisions smartwatches replacing fitness trackers and wearables taking on various form factors providing unique contextual capabilities, according to its report.
"People will therefore own multiple dedicated wearables as well as wearables with multi-functionality," Svanberg says.
The market predictions come as wearable vendors are rapidly developing new devices, consumers are embracing mHealth apps and gadgets and established tech giants are readying mHealth platforms to serve as data hubs for users' healthcare information.
Yet some industry watchers believe the smartphone will ultimately claim victory as the mHealth wearable device, according to an article at U.S. News & World Report, which notes handsets are increasingly coming pre-loaded with mHealth apps and capabilities, such as heart rate monitoring, step counting and calorie counting.
However, whichever wearable attains leadership ranking will need to be one that's relevant and appealing to consumers.
"The key is making the devices provide meaning as well as data--counting steps is all very well, but will not keep consumers interested unless that information can be contextualized and made useful for them," James Moar, a Juniper research analyst, recently told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview.
Berg Insight's Svanberg, like many experts in the mHealth sector, is worried about the impact of privacy concerns, data security and regulatory decision making when it comes to wearable advances.
"As in the case with most technology, individual users and service providers have a large responsibility not to misuse the capabilities enabled by wearables," he says. "Many people actually are wary about what kind of data is being recorded by the devices, both by their own devices as well as other user's devices.
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