Wearables: the eyes have it


Global revenues for smart glasses, fitness bands and watches should exceed £2 billion in 2014. The most successful category, smart glasses, are likely to be priced at about £300 and sell about 4 million units. People are used to wearing watches, but may be less keen to charge them on a daily basis, so we expect demand for smart watches to be two million units. The appeal of fitness bands may diminish if owners’ quantified exercise levels decline.

The mass launch of smart glasses in UK is likely to be met by scepticism and delight, as is customary with the launch of each new digital form factor. And the first models of smart glasses are likely to appeal to, and be purchased by, a niche, which should number in the hundreds of thousands in the UK, and in the millions worldwide.

This may seem an unlikely outcome for what is considered a new and slightly eccentric form factor, saddled with significant and fundamental constraints: smart glasses have to be transparent, may never work well in direct sunlight, and due to their low contrast are unsuitable for watching TV programs or films.

Initial users of smart glasses are likely to include: early adopters, for whom being at the bleeding edge of innovation is of paramount importance, even if the user experience in terms of interface and reliability requires further refinement; wealthy individuals for whom £300 would be a relatively small amount to pay, and professionals whose job is to investigate the potential of new products such as smart glasses for increasing productivity.

As for the smart fitness band, a form of wearable computing typically worn on the wrist, these should enjoy reasonable demand in 2014; but the market for such devices may never become mainstream in the UK, despite high-profile advocacy. Smart fitness bands measure a range of activities from paces walked to hours slept, and tap into the trend for the ‘quantified self’, whereby many aspects of one’s activity and being are measured.

Quantification appeals when metrics are heading in the right direction; owners of smart fitness bands may be less enthusiastic about their devices if their performances heads in the wrong direction.

We expect smart watches to remain specialist devices and be outsold by smart glasses over the long term. This may surprise: after all, the value proposition for watches is well-established. People have worn watches to tell the time, and to display status or wealth, for hundreds of years. By comparison, attaching a screen to a pair of glasses and then talking to the device may seem unnatural.

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