Will This be the Breakout Year for Wearable Technology?

It appears that we may finally be here—the future. Thankfully not the dystopian future that Alex Proyas and James Cameron directed with humanity on the verge of extinction at the hands of robot overlords, but a more Hanna-Barbera-friendly Jetsons environment where technology has assisted in creating a more interconnected world.

As evident by the large quantity of wearable technologies on display at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show, major players in the consumer tech industry are seeking to gain market share in this relatively new–yet-old idea of developing technologies which interact with the user on a more personal level.

Following Google Glass’ introduction, as well as the potential issues such as distracted driving and privacy encroachment, wearables were in the spotlight, resulting in groups veering for or against purchasing this technology. With every new technology and innovative product there is the early adopter crowd, those who were the first to line up at night to purchase the iPhone in 2007 were a much smaller crowd then the millions of iPhone users today.

The iPhone, along with the rest of the smartphone market, has evolved into a mainstream product which is sustainable because of demand. Can wearable technology become sustainable in its own right? Duncan Stewart, Director of Research with Deloitte TMT Predictions, believes it can, but each subsector of wearable technology will have a different experience.

“We are pretty optimistic about wearable technology in general,” he says, “but even though the wristband market may appear to fit in the same place as the smartwatch, they are utterly different technologies, with the wristband being a niche product.”

Although Deloitte predicts the smart wristband market to be around $500 million, the market size does not leave much room for new entrances to grab market share in the space outside of the current leaders such as Jawbone. The main reason the wristband market may remain a niche product is as Duncan states “the main functions of the wristbands, such as pedometers, will be picked up by Smartphones, or even smartwatches, which offer more features.”

One of the larger wearable categories, although still relatively small, is the smartwatch, which is growing faster than the wristband market but may face some issues in the market due to design and usability limitations.

“Smartwatches are cool but do not do quite enough due the screen being too small to use, and if they make the screens much larger to not only view content better but to input information as well, people will not want to wear it. Can they sell one billion smartwatches? No. Can they sell 100 million? Maybe, but even that is on the high end,” explained Duncan during a recent interview.

After reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch for a month it is evident that Deloitte’s analysis is very accurate. The ability to take pictures and receive notifications as well as use the smart watch to locate your Bluetooth connected Smartphone is beneficial, but the smart watch’s small screen and inability to act as a singular device due to limited standalone connectivity but must compliment a smartphone to make phone calls and receive notifications holds back its true potential.

Connectivity limitations aside, the Galaxy Gear offers clear call reception and was a great accessory to the Galaxy Note 3 but not a must buy. The true growth potential in wearable technology is the future implications for smart glasses in the enterprise environment and not the consumer market, despite predictions to sell 100 to 200 million units within a decade. The majority of smartphone users spend more time viewing video and reading text then recording live content or looking at a small screen which would be the experience for smart glasses users. The other possible limitation is the fact that people’s experience with glasses varies as some love to wear glasses while others prefer to go the contact or laser surgery route.

Will glasses that no longer enhance vision but allow for a new form of connectivity to occur be enough to inspire mass adoption? The enterprise market along with the potential subsidiary software’s and services will be a potential trillion dollar industry in the future once the technology becomes mandatory as Deloitte believes it will in “recording police officer conduct or to be used by surgeons to record live footage for analysis purposes.”

With all the possible uses for wearable technology there is definitely a demand in theory to solve certain daily issues, but will there be a demand right from the start? Probably not. 2014 will be a breakout year for this technology but there is a long road ahead of product adoption and legal mandates which will have to be in place to regulate the wearable experience.

For the time being, wearable technology will simply just remain cool.