As the smart wearables market continues to grow and evolve, Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2017, 30 percent of smart wearables will be completely unobtrusive to the eye.
"Already, there are some interesting developments at the prototype stage that could pave the way for consumer wearables to blend seamlessly into their surroundings," said Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner. "Smart contact lenses are one type in development. Another interesting wearable that is emerging is smart jewelry. There are around a dozen crowdfunded projects competing right now in this area, with sensors built into jewelry for communication alerts and emergency alarms. Obtrusive wearables already on the market, like smart glasses, are likely to develop new designs that disguise their technological components completely."
Gartner made a number of further predictions about the consumer devices market, including:
By 2018, more than 25 million head-mounted displays (HMDs) will have been sold as immersive devices and virtual worlds will have transitioned from the fringe to the mainstream.
Interest in HMD devices, which power virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and other smartglass apps, will be such that, by 2018, the technology behind them will be used in a variety of consumer and business scenarios. "HMDs are more popular in 2014 than at any point in the past," said Brian Blau, research director at Gartner. "Prior to 2014, HMDs were mainly found in specialty applications, such as industrial design or military training and simulation, where HMD technology is well-developed. However, even with a long history of HMD development, broad adoption in the consumer market has yet to take hold. That situation will change as soon as HMDs are offered as stylish, consumer-grade video eyeglasses. This will eventually drive adoption when paired with compelling virtual worlds and augmented real-world content."
There are so many notable products in development that, by 2018, this era will be looked on as one in which the first wave of HMD devices hit the market. However, quelling some of the initial enthusiasm are the significant user experience barriers, including lack of mature software services and privacy concerns. HMD technology is expected to have a different and slower trajectory over the next few years compared with the fast adoption that was seen with the introduction of smartphones. This is certain to accelerate when users increasingly experience compelling, immersive worlds offered by well-made VR and AR apps through their headsets.
By 2016, biometric sensors will be featured in 40 percent of smartphones shipped to end users.
Fingerprint scanning will be the primary biometric feature introduced by most vendors, given its intuitive and unobtrusive usage. Other biometrics such as facial, iris, voice and palm vein authentication will also emerge but will remain relatively niche. Wearables will also feature biometrics as coupling devices to smartphones, but will mostly obtain the biometric information to be passed onto the smartphone where the intelligence and authentication take place.
Through 2017, one-third of consumers in emerging markets will have never owned a Windows device.
Before the advent of smartphones and tablets, Microsoft Windows was the dominant operating system for consumer devices back when the PC was the only Internet-connected device. In mature markets, PC penetration is still high — Gartner forecasts that more than 90 percent of consumers currently use a Windows PC. This picture is different in emerging regions, where PC penetration is lower and some consumers have never owned or used a PC, and never will.
"In mature markets, the PC is part of the device ecosystem for mainstream consumers who use multiple devices depending on where they are and what they do," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal research analyst at Gartner. "In emerging markets, consumers' first Web-connected device is often a basic phone with some browser capability. The rise in smartphones and their subsequent drop in price means some users' first smartphone will be purchased for $50 or less. Their next-stage purchase may be to buy a larger screen device with better viewing and better functionality. In this case, the most likely device choice will be a phablet or tablet and not a PC, because of a familiarity with touchscreen input, interface and device mobility."
More detailed analysis is available in the Gartner report "Predicts 2015: New Business Opportunities and Complexity on the Rise in Consumer Devices Market." The report is available on Gartner's website at http://www.gartner.com/document/2930717.