The market for wearable devices, like the upcoming Apple Watch, is set to take off over the next few years, according to a new forecast from Juniper Research.
Wearables shipments are expected to more than quadruple by 2017, reaching 116 million devices. By comparison, the research firm predicts that vendors will ship 27 million wearable devices by the time 2014 comes to a close.
Despite the meteoric rise of smartwatches, fitness trackers and the like, don't expect them to eclipse smartphones any time soon. According to Juniper's math, less than 5 percent of smartphones will be paired with wearables by 2017.
Earlier this month, Juniper predicted that worldwide retail sales will reach $53.2 billion by 2019, compared to an expected $4.5 billion in wearables sales this year. And consumers won't be the only ones snapping up the companion devices.
Businesses are also jumping on the wearables bandwagon. In May, ABI Research predicted that the enterprise wearable device market will amount to $18 billion by 2019.
Like PCs, smartphones and tablets before them, expect wearables to settle into software camps like Google's Android Wear initiative.
Android Wear, officially launched during the Google I/O conference in June, extends the company's mobile operating system to wearable devices, notably smartwatches. While Android Wear impressed with its minimalist interface and context-aware functionality, its purpose is to establish a wearables software ecosystem for vendors and developers.
Juniper expects such programs to have a defining impact on the market.
"This will bring an explosion of devices into an already crowded market, as smaller companies focus on producing quality hardware without needing software expertise," said the research firm in a statement. "As a result, the segment will be less open to truly unique innovations, with software platforms dictating capability."
Juniper also suggest that the industry's flirtation with wearables that don't need to be tethered to smartphones via Bluetooth, like the 3G-enabled Samsung's Gear S, will be short-lived. The firm's analysts predict that "independent wearables will remain rare, as manufacturers continue to build their software around a companion smartphone to encourage a dual revenue stream."
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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