Wearables set to go Global in 2015

2014 has seen wearable technology take a significant step forward, with Apple entering with the market with its launch of the Apple Watch expected to hit shelves in early 2015.

Apple joins other global tech brands like LG, Microsoft, Motorola and Samsung in the world of wearables, leading analyst firm CSS Insight to predict sales will hit 135 million in 2018.

The Apple Watch launch is also endemic of the current race to pack as many features into a ‘stylish’ device as possible in the hope that every consumer will find at least one function that's of use to them - the climax of which is the Samsung Galaxy Gear S that is capable of working as a phone independent of any other device.

Attempting to pack as many features onto people’s wrists as possible has led to a high device cost for wearables and manufacturers focusing on more affluent Western markets, where they can target early adopters and consumers with more disposable income.

Figures from CCS Insight highlight this emphasis on the West, with 5.2m of the almost 10m devices sold in 2013 coming from North America and over 40 per cent of wearables currently in use also being there.

However, this attention on Western markets ignores the opportunity that other markets could offer to wearable technology providers.

Earlier this year we commissioned research from Ovum for a report into the growth of mobile technology and services in emerging markets titled ‘The Next Mobile Frontier’.

This revealed a marked opportunity for growth in wearable devices in the surveyed growth markets of Brazil, China, India, Nigeria and Vietnam, with 46 per cent of those surveyed stating that functionality is the most important factor in their next mobile purchase - something the big wearable tech brands have already been focusing on for Western markets.

A spotlight has already been shone on this market opportunity by local tech player Xiaomi, albeit a large brand in itself, with the launch of its $13 (£9) Mi fitness band earlier this year.

The Mi sold around 100,000 units per day in China following its initial release, with reports that over one million bands being shipped since mid-August this year. With the Mi band, Xiaomi didn’t try to pack every feature in, but focused on delivering a good health tracker to consumers and the reward has already been clear.

So why haven’t wearables taken off in emerging markets yet? The main barriers at the moment are twofold: availability and price.

The major players in the market have been mobile tech businesses with a foot in these emerging markets already, but they have still struggled to create compelling devices at an attractive price point for these consumers.Hence the focus on Western markets up to now.

However, the opportunity is clear and with major players entering the market this year competition in these developing markets could be fierce.

The brand that wins when it comes to wearable will be the one that is able to not only meet the technological and price needs for these markets, but also deliver services to consumer in the right way.

One route to market is using the local telecoms operators, who have years of experience and a huge potential customer base.

Whether these new devices are brought direct to market or in conjunction with an operator, one thing is clear: 2015 will be the year that wearables break out of the West and find their global market.

Marco Veremis is CEO of mobile monetisation firm Upstream.