The latest report from MarketsandMarkets predicts that the wearables market is expected to be worth up to $34.61 billion by 2020. That number by any standard is astonishing, but especially fascinating is tthe virutal reality market--which seems to generate more buzz than wearables--is predicted to be worth only half that much by 2020, valued at only $15.89 billion. These two numbers tell much about where electrical engineers should be focusing their attention to stay relevant.
Apple Watch image courtesy apple.com
The two markets often overlap (the Oculus Rift, for example, could be considered a wearable, but devotes the majority of its purpose to gaming and virtual reality), but the reports clearly state the preference for smartwatches and activity trackers. Sales numbers for the Apple Watch are guarded closely by the company and prices for the device start at $249, comparable to the price of an iPhone with a new 2-year contract, so if the report is accurate it would point to a consumer base that is prepared to spend quite a significant amount of money on the burgeoning wearables market. The cost for a wearable, though, is nothing compared to the cost of a display wall or a treadmill that simulates running through Norway. Undoubtedly, cost is the primary wedge between the two markets.
Part of the public's eagerness to invest in wearables rather than virtual reality, though, might be practicality: a watch is already a part of a daily wardrobe for most people, whereas a virtual reality monitor seems like a redundant, though admittedly very cool, accessory. Virtual reality devices seem to only specialize in one thing--exercise or gaming or entertainment--while wearables can check email, monitor activity, call a taxi, etc. Much of the value in wearables is in their usefulness as perceived by consumers.
That provides clarity for electrical engineers: sensors, smaller hardware, and tracking technologies are going to be in increased demand. There should be an emphasis on integration into the wearables market, not necessarily devotion to virtual reality technologies.