This Month in Wearables: February 2016

Major news and new releases in the world of wearables

Welcome to the latest installment of JCK’s This Month in Wearables—a monthly rundown of what’s hot and happening in the world of wearable devices and technology. 

Fitbit is the fastest-growing wearable brand
According to a study on wearables released by IDC this month, Fitbit is the fastest-growing wearable brand, outpacing even Apple. The brand’s third-quarter sales rose from 22.2 percent to 29.5 percent. Apple’s volumes for the quarter “grew only slightly from the previous quarter,” read the report, “and total revenues have yet to counterbalance the slowing growth and declines from the company’s other product categories. Expectations are higher for the next-generation Watch that can leverage the company’s platforms (HealthKit, ResearchKit, WatchKit, and watchOS 2) and connectivity capabilities.”

Smartwatch shipments outpaced Swiss watch shipments
Guy Semon, general director of TAG Heuer, told me in January at CES that the company “has to go where the trend is going—to wearables. And some would say making a wearable is the opposite of making a [Swiss] watch. But we have to do it.” His sentiment couldn’t have been more prescient (see my Q&A with him here). 
On Feb. 19, a report from consulting firm Strategy Analytics said that for the first time ever, more smartwatches have been shipped worldwide than Swiss watches. In the fourth quarter of 2015, 8.1 million smartwatches were shipped, compared with 7.9 million Swiss watches. The 8.1 million shipped smartwatches constituted a 316 percent jump from the same period in 2014, when just 1.9 million smartwatches were shipped. The Swiss watch industry suffered a 5 percent year-over-year decrease from its 2014 numbers. 

Wearables sales doubled in 2015
Market research firm NPD reported in early February that U.S. wearable sales nearly doubled in 2015, compared to sales in 2014. Roughly 13.4 million smart devices were sold in 2015, up from 7.2 million in 2014. And the average price of connected devices went from $96 to $109.

MasterCard strategizing for wearables payments
Credit card company MasterCard announced this month that it’s working with WISeKey, a firm that specializes in NFC (near frequency communication) payments, to bring contactless payments to a group of high-profile smartwatches. Wareable reports that “MasterCard has been busy signing agreements to get its payment tech into wearable devices. This latest deal with WISeKey comes off the back of a deal with Coin at CES 2016, which could see it power payments on Moov, Atlas Wristband, and Omate smartwatches.”

Splashy debuts at the Mobile World Congress 
The Mobile World Congress, an annual event and trade show spotlighting mobile-related products (from more than 250 companies in 2016), took place Feb. 22–25 in Barcelona, Spain. And the event played host to a handful of unveilings in the wearables category, including the Victorinox/Acer collaboration—an analog Victorinox watch fitted with a digital Acer bezel—and Garmin’s hyper-feminine Vivofit 3 activity bands. See those and more new devices here.

Polar wearables cause some users to break out in allergic reactions
Finnish wearables developer Polar announced that its A36o fitness tracker has caused a small percentage of its customers to break out into an allergic rash. And they’ve pinpointed the problem: a non-hardening glue used in the device’s optical heart-rate sensor. There’s a short-but-potent history of wearables causing allergic reactions—the Fitbit Charge and the Apple Watch are among the devices that have fielded customer complaints of uncomfortable skin reactions. 

Virtual reality is going to be big
Google is busy building a second-generation Google Cardboard virtual-reality headset. According to the Financial Times, sources in San Francisco said the new version will have a plastic—not cardboard—casing and better lenses and sensors. It will compete head-to-head with Samsung’s $99.99 Gear VR. These viewers use smartphones for their display, making them fun, no-fuss additions for the tech addicted.

Top: New Victorinox I.N.O.X. watch in collaboration with Acer (photo courtesy of Victorinox)

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JCK Senior Editor

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