The year 2015 has seen a renaissance of sorts when it comes to wearables--kick-started, no doubt, by the release of Google’s Android Wear and Apple’s more recent entry into the wearables arena, the Apple Watch. Indeed, when it comes to wearables, watches are the obvious devices. But we are starting to see the area of smart wearable concepts expanding, to everything from bio-measurable shirts to virtual reality headsets to pet-ware.
In 2016, we will almost certainly see more on the wearables front from big-name vendors, but we expect to also see a push from smaller companies. Indeed, 2016 looks to be a big year for wearables, as concepts move from the corkboards (virtual and otherwise) and into production and delivery. At the same time, or as a result, the wearables category will move from a niche market to mainstream.
When it comes to wearables, there's a lot to look out for in 2016. Here are just some of the devices and platforms you should keep an eye on:
The Apple Watch 2 (and watchOS 3.0)
Expected Release: April 2016
While the release of the new Apple Watch platform has not been officially confirmed, rumor has it that the second iteration of the Apple Watch will arrive in 2016, sporting some upgraded features.
The Apple Watch was the No. 1 wearable in 2015, despite having a battery that lasts about 24 hours and the lack of SIM card or camera. On the plus side, the Apple Watch has been a pioneer in the area of wearable-enabled payment technology, thanks to Apple Pay.
We don't expect drastic changes to the next iteration of the Apple wearable, such as its shape, but we may see some improved hardware components. We also expect the third iteration of watchOS to come bundled, with greater SDK access for developers and improved communication between the iPhone and Apple Watch.
Prediction: The next Apple Watch will be LTE-capable, allowing for true decoupling from the iPhone and Wi-Fi, and will offer improved battery life and perhaps a built-in GPS.
Samsung Gear S3
- Release Date: October 2016
Samsung, competing with the Apple Watch, is already preparing for the third iteration of the Gear S3, having just released the Samsung Gear S2 in October 2015 to much fanfare. The new watch is very stylish, and sports 3G as well as in-built GPS--features the current Apple Watch lacks.
However, the Samsung device is nowhere near as popular as the Apple Watch. It's lacking from an industrial design perspective, and it isn’t as comfortable as the Apple Watch. At 11.4mm thick, it is missing the elegance and lightness of Apple’s offerings. In addition, the wearable is powered by Samsung’s Tizen operating system, rather than Google’s Android operating system, and it thus does not have the same app ecosystem that Android or even Apple have.
Prediction: The Samsung device's battery life and internals are excellent, and the watch is speedy and well-priced. We expect the look and feel, and personalization capabilities, to improve in 2016, when the Samsung Gear S3 comes out. We also expect Samsung to continue with its Tizen approach, rather than falling in line with other Android wearables such as the Moto 360 and the Android Wear.
Tag Heuer Connected Smartwatch
- Release Date: November 2015
The Tag Heuer Connected wearable is the luxury Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer’s attempt to make itself relevant by bringing its line of prestigious watches into the digital new era. The $1,500 Connected Smartwatch, which was released in November, boasts a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom processor and Android Wear operating system.
Unlike the Samsung S2, this wearable boasts excellent industrial engineering, but it lacks the screen resolution of even the likes of Apple Watch--at only 240 ppi. The watch is already sold out, however, and Tag Heuer no doubt sees this as the future of its products. While this is the company's first Android-powered watch, we don’t expect it will be its last.
Prediction: We expect the second model of the Tag device to leverage updates and improvements we're seeing on Google’s operating system front. WIth the device's price point of $1,500, we don’t expect a mass migration to the Tag wearable world, but incremental improvements such as greater resolution and battery improvements may lure some users.
Other notable watches coming in 2016
- Expected Release Date: April 2016
Shifting away from watches, another wearble area getting a lot of attention lately is virtual reality. Expected late in the first quarter of 2016 is the HTC Vive. The system was originally slated for release in December 2015, but the rollout was pushed to April in order to deliver a much improved version, thanks to technological breakthroughs, according to media reports.
We don’t have a price for this wearable yet, but HTC has promised a unique experience. Unlike its main rival, the Oculus Rift, the HTC device will offer true object tracking. In addition, the device is designed to go beyond consumer-focued interests such as games. For example, HTC has said that it is working to get Vives installed in many high-end car dealerships and in healthcare environments, where it could be used, for example, to inspect 3D image scans of patients in preparation for surgery.
HTC has started to engage developers, through the openVR SDK. However, with more and more companies looking to create their own VR implementations, we are still pretty far from a standard that will be adopted across all VR makers.
Prediction: VR is still in its infancy--laggging smart watches at this stage. This, and current high prices, put the technology out of the reach of most users right now. With that said, we expect to see more and more use cases in 2016, such as in real estate and healthcare. VR is still far away from the mainstream, but it will inch closer and closer in 2016.
- Expected Release Date: Early 2016
Microsoft is also investing in the VR space--kind of. Due early in 2016, Microsoft HoloLens is a different take altogether when compared to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Indeed, unlike HTC and Oculus Rift, HoloLens isn’t virtual reality but augmented reality (AR). This is an important distinction, in that AR technology virtualizes holograms onto the real world/space, as opposed to putting users into a completely virtualized world.
Hardware-wise, the HoloLens sports a full Windows 10 operating system and computer, as opposed to the smartphone-powered devices found in VR-devices. Developers can already apply for a developer edition of the HoloLens, as Microsoft is looking to build a developer community to kickstart its experimental shift into augmented reality.
Use cases for businesses and consumers are still few and far between, but Microsoft, like HTC, has been working with car makers like Volvo to provide a new way for customers to explore future car models in virtual reality.
Prediction: Few people have had their hands on the HoloLens. Currently you can check it out in a highly controlled showcase at Microsoft’s Manhattan flagship store, but the developer edition of the HoloLens may differ vastly from the publicly released product. Whether VR or AR wins out long term remains to be seen, but Microsoft’s unique take on projecting graphics onto the "real world" has use cases that differ--and perhaps expand on--what VR has to offer. It’s a bit early yet, but we are excited to see where this technology goes during the next few years.
Other notable VR products
- Expected Release Date: Not disclosed
Even our clothes will get smarter in 2016, as companies such as UnderArmor move into the smart clothing market. Google is working with the likes of UnderArmor and Levis to make intelligent clothing for the general market. We don’t have any release dates as of yet, but we may see some prototypes come out mid- to late-2016.
We will start to see sophisticated clothing including things like personalized temperature controls and tracking of body movements. The applications are almost unlimited, but think about the benefits to coaches and athletes or doctors and patients.
Prediction: As with VR and AR, smart clothing is still new--very new. We likely won't see the release of this kind of clothing in 2016, but we expect to at least see verbal promise turn into prototypes.
Xmetrics for Swimming
- Release Date: October 2015
A lot of the wearables currently on the market are either not waterproof or, at the very least, lack the ability to track water-based activities, but this is about to change, thanks to the Indiegogo-funded XMetrics, owned by STMicroelectronics.
Made for swimmers, XMetrics satisfies serious swimming athletes' dreams of being able to track performance such as lap times. The device is worn on the back of the head and clips to users' goggles. The lightweight wearable can then record strokes and swimming efficiency, providing audible feedback via earbuds.
XMetrics come in two flavors: the Xmetrics FIT, which provides audio feedback, as well as the essential trackable and measurable features; and the XMetrics Pro, with additional audio feedback customization, and professional features such as being able to sync swimming schedules and status with coaches and teams.
Prediction: XMetrics was released in October of this year, and we expect future iterations to be announced in 2016. We may even see the likes of UnderArmor, as well as other smaller makers, to come up with their own waterproof wearables.
Nuzzle Pet Wearables & Squaker
- Release Date: Early 2016
We can't forget our furry friends: Another product of Indiegogo funding, Nuzzle is a company that offers GPS tracking through a waterproof and durable collar that connects to an app on your smartphone. This allows pet owners to check on their pets from anywhere.
The collar--which also offers impact-detecting and geofencing activity monitoring--can be charged on a base station. It will be available sometime in the first quarter of 2016.
Prediction: The pet industry is huge, and companies are starting to take notice with smart technologies that cater to dogs and cats (among other furry and not-so-furry friends). In addition to Nuzzle, companies like Squeaker are offering ways to track animals' health and whereabouts intelligently. Products like Nuzzle strike an emotional chord and satisfy a pragmatic need, and we will surely see this segment grow more rapidly and diversely in 2016.