Is wearable tech a $50 billion industry? Ha. No. But there is potential for some serious growth.
That was the consensus at the Wearable Tech Expo here in New York City today, where more than 1,000 execs are expected to gather and discuss the industry's opportunities and challenges.
One of the early discussions was called "Why Wearable Tech Is a $50 Billion Market." Perhaps that number was picked arbitrarily. Or maybe it was simply over enthusiastic, because the industry is nowhere near that size yet.
"We're still in the 1.0 stage of wearable adoption," said Mladen Barbaric, founder and CEO of brand and product consultancy Pearl Studios. The market for smartwatches alone -- not including any other type of wearable device -- was said to be about $700 million in 2013 and is expected to reach $2.5 billion this year, according to independent research firm the Smartwatch Group.
With devices like Pebble and Google Glass having only launched in 2013, and Samsung Gear and the Android Wear platform coming more recently, the wearable industry is young. And with any budding industry, there are a number of significant challenges.
"People want smartwatches to be easy to use, to sync up, and to add value to their lives," said tech journalist and Pebble chief product evangelist Myriam Joire during the morning keynote. Easier said than done, of course.
One of the biggest challenges is convincing consumers -- beyond early adopter tech enthusiasts -- that a smartwatch or smart glasses or a health tracker can solve real problems. So far, getting notifications on your wrist or eye has been a tricky sell.
"Adoption of wearables will be driven by use cases where value can be recognized," said Joe Fitzgerald, a senior manager at Deloitte. Beyond the consumer market, there are real uses for wearable tech in enterprise, namely manufacturing and retail, he said. Think robotics control, hands free product logging, inventory reconciliation and order fulfillment. But, again, the trick will be explaining and marketing those use cases.
Another big hurdle is a lack of standardization, Joire said. For instance, different devices have very different charging connectors, which can be frustrating for consumers. Battery life is another. While the Pebble's battery can last five to seven days before requiring a charge, many other devices need charging after only 24 hours. That's far from convenient.
From there, device makers face display challenges -- color and brightness eat up that precious battery life -- as well as fashion. People want what they wear every day to be as beautiful as it is functional.
"Real adoption will happen when you wear the technology and don't ever put it down or take it off," said Chris Weed, director of business development at HZO, a company that develops solutions for protecting electronics from corrosion and water exposure. "It has to be ingrained in function and fashion."