Wearable Tech World Feature Article
October 02, 2014

Smartwatches Make Big Gains in Wearables, But One Feature Stands Out

When wearable tech first got its start back around the age of the calculator watch, it was regarded as the realm of the nerd, of geekdom excelsior, of something that regular people would never actually bother with. But time goes on, and with it comes advances in technology, along with a new development: wearable tech that regular people are interested in. Indeed, new smartwatches from companies like Apple and Samsung are raising the bar, and one key point is drawing the most attention in the smartwatch market: the flexible display.

Last month's IFA 2014 event in Berlin helped underscore the growth of wearables in the field, with a variety of new designs, many of which focused just as much—potentially more so—on form as on function. But function was certainly in play as well, as designers not only worked to make the devices more “fashion-forward,” but also more usable as well. The flexible display served as the centerpiece of many such designs, offering a new and exciting means to draw interest and provide value.

With so many device makers turning to flexible displays as a means to add value for users, that in turn is lighting a fire under the display panel market in wearable tech. Reports suggest that, by the end of this year, the market for such products will hit $300 million, but by 2023, the market will be worth around $22.7 billion annually, having enjoyed annual growth of roughly 80 percent annually for at least the next four years.

Several new devices brought in flexible displays in recent introductions, including the Samsung Gear S smartwatch, which uses a flexible two inch active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) display and the Apple Watch, which uses a flexible Retina display. Other devices stick to rounded displays, like the LG G-Watch R and the Moto 360 from Motorola. But regardless of the shape or flexibility of the device, one thing became clear: it couldn't just be about the device itself so much as it had to be about the device's ability to integrate with a complete outfit.

IHS senior director for research and display Sweta Dash noted that wearables worked best in the market when considered as “functional fashion accessories rather than as electronic goods.” Dash also added that wearables needed three particular points to succeed in the field: low power consumption, flexibility in both design and form factor, and outdoor visibility. With these three things in place—users able to go most of a day without loss of function, getting several possible uses out of one device and the ability to see the device's display outdoors—the device in question has a much better chance of success.

It has been exciting, over the last few months, to see the evolution of wearable tech from pure function to a combination of form and function. That's going to go a long way in making wearable devices more popular and socially acceptable, and with smartwatches taking on more functions formerly associated only with fitness trackers, that's going to up the market still further. Given reports that smart wearable device shipments should more than quadruple just by 2017, it's a clear sign of upward momentum.

The wearable device market looks to make substantial gains, as more and more such devices with increasing numbers of features come into play. Device makers are certainly helping with an increased focus on fashion, and the end result is likely to be good news all around.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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