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The future of wearables is not only bright, it's looking more like Apple Watch and less like the basic fitness trackers that helped popularize the device class.
As 2017 draws to a close, vendors are on track to ship over 113 million fitness trackers, smart watches and other wearable devices by the end of the year, according to IDC estimates. By 2021, that number will nearly double to 222.3 million units, predicts the analyst firm.
Most of those shipments will be smartwatches and basic watches. IDC defines basic watches as a more stylish "evolution of fitness bands" that generally fall short of full-fledged and increasingly more capable smartwatches. For example, the latest Apple Watch (Series 3) can be had with cellular connectivity, allowing users to make calls, send texts and stream songs without a companion iPhone.
In 2021, basic watches will nab a 35.1 percent share of the wearables market, followed by smart watches at 32.1 percent and basic wristbands at 21.5 percent. By comparison, fitness trackers and other basic wristbands are expected to command nearly 40 percent of the market in 2017, followed by smartwatches (27.9 percent) and basic watches (26.4 percent).
Smartwatch and basic watch shipments will reach 71.5 million and 78 million units in 2021, respectively. This year, vendors are expected to ship 31.6 million smartwatches and 29.9 million basic watches.
"Tomorrow's wearables will become more fully featured and multi-functional, spanning health and fitness to communication and productivity," said IDC research manager Ramon T. Llamas in a Dec. 20 announcement. "Effectively, that will make today's wearables seem quaint, and spur upgrades and replacements."
Meanwhile, the wearables ecosystem is expanding and diversifying, changing the way many consumers interact with technology in their everyday lives.
Consumers can expect to encounter "a wider array of devices going forward," Llamas said. "These won't necessarily replace the wearables we have today, but other products that we use on a regular basis. Traditional earphones will give way to smart earwear that feature fitness tracking, audio augmentation, or personal assistants."
Smart earwear will be the fastest-growing product category, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58.5 percent between 2017 and 2021, predicted IDC. Earwear shipments are expected to reach 10.6 million in 2021 from a mere 1.7 million this year.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.