Wearables to Shift from Wrist- to Body-Worn Devices

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The market for wearable technology is shifting from wrist- to body-worn devices, enabling workers to much more easily stay connected and access system information in a hands-free manner, according to a report from ABI Research.

The study forecasts that enterprise wearable shipments will increase from 30 million in 2016 to nearly 147 million in 2021. Body-worn devices will increase from 20 million to 116 million, with wrist-worn devices tripling to reach 30 million.

The current wearable market is concentrated on wrist-worn devices such as smart watches, many of which focus on fitness tracking, as with the popular Fitbit. Body-worn devices, however, encompass a much wider selection, including smart glasses, smart clothing, wearable cameras, and virtual reality headsets, according to the report, which asserts that while wrist-worn devices have been effective at collecting data, they have limited applicability for enterprises.

“While the wearable tech conversation has been heavily influenced by form factor up to this point, the market is approaching the point where the success of wearables—as powerful as they may be—will be predicated by broader support across the enterprise ecosystem,” Ryan Martin, senior analyst at ABI Research, says.

He also foresees diversification among body-worn devices. “When we look beyond the wrist, we often think about smart glasses and digital eyewear, but there’s a lot more in the pipeline for consumer and enterprise customers alike,” he says. “This extends to clothing, footwear, wearable cameras, scanners, hearables, helmets, and accessories, such as clips, clasps, belts, and pins.”

Martin also notes that for consumers, there is a “finite amount of real estate on the human body” on which to fasten a watch. While a person might own multiple watches, he’s unlikely to wear more than one at a time, he says.

This is not to say that wrist-worn devices will disappear. Rather, the report indicates that growth for body-worn devices will simply outstrip growth for those worn on the wrist. Furthermore, the study cites a shift from traditional work environments to those that are desk-less, which is essential to the adoption of wearables in enterprise environments.

The report also notes that companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Vuzix are heavily invested in the move toward these kinds of work environments.

“The difference in an enterprise environment is that these connected technologies are often viewed as a tool to improve productivity through better workforce utilization,” Martin says. “This is a big point, particularly for occupational-related requirements. A nurse may wear scrubs, a manufacturing engineer [may wear] safety glasses, and a firefighter [may wear] a protective suit. There is no reason why these company-issued devices cannot and should not ultimately be connected.”

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