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Does the Apple Watch Herald the Era of Wearables?

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The Apple Watch is coming and, as usual, Apple is generating significant buzz around its latest product. But will it be a hit? Apple is betting big on it, with Apple CEO Tim Cook saying the new device is the “next chapter” in Apple’s history, comparing it to the Mac, iPhone and iPod.

Analysts are certainly on board with this expectation, predicting the new Apple Watch will inject new life into wearable device market. This market has been slow as consumers have been content with smartphones and slower to accept wearable computing devices. Yet it has also gained due to the popularity of wrist-worn wearables such as the FitBit.

An estimated 25.7 million wearables will be shipped in 2015, up 510.9 percent from 4.2 million units shipped in 2014, according to the Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker by IDC. Smart wearables are defined by IDC as devices capable of running third-party applications, such as the Apple Watch, Motorola’s Moto 360 and Samsung’s Gear watches.

“Smart wearables are about to take a major step forward with the launch of the Apple Watch this year,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Wearables team, in a release. “The Apple Watch raises the profile of wearables in general and there are many vendors and devices that are eager to share the spotlight. Basic wearables, meanwhile, will not disappear. In fact, we anticipate continued growth here as many segments of the market seek out simple, single-use wearable devices.”

Wrist-worn wearables, including smart bands, bracelets, and watches, will account for more than 80 percent of all wearable device shipments according to IDC. Following behind these products are “modular wearable devices”, which are devices worn on any part of the body with a clip or a strap.

“The explosion of wearable devices was clearly led by fitness bands, which until recently commanded prices that provided comfortable margins, but those days are changing,” said Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Device Trackers. “The price of these fitness bands have come down so significantly in some markets that smartphone OEMs are now bundling them with smartphones at little cost.”

The fastest growing category is smart clothing, as more companies embed computing power into shirts, socks, hats and more. There are currently smarts shirts with sensors that measure ECG, respiration, temperature and blood oxygen level, which reveal blood pressure and other data. You can even get a smart hoodie that can recognize gestures like rolling up a sleeve or putting on the hood, in order to send text messages. Other devices on the market include a smart security blanket to track children, smart goggles for ski slopes, smart yoga mat and fashion-forward smart jewelry. There is of course eyewear as well with Google Glass and more.

So does Apple have a crystal ball view of a wearable technology future that it helped define with the iPod and iPhone? Once the Apple Watch launches, the future will certainly become more clear.