Layoffs and senior management departures have been the name of the wearable game for quite a few vendors in the space, including TomTom, Jawbone, and Intel. The first half of 2017 brought with it a Jawbone bankruptcy declaration, TomTom's 20% year-on-year drop in consumer revenue, and Intel's sizable Basis smartwatch team layoffs.
Shifting to consolidation, IP sale, niches, and the enterprise
For major players such as Apple, Fitbit, and Fossil looking to capture large parts of the steadily growing market – Ovum projects 148 million wearables will be sold in 2018 – acquisitions and consolidation of smaller players excelling in specific tech advancements (e.g., sleek form factors, long battery life, NFC capabilities) will yield the best results. Fitbit has done exactly this with its acquisitions of Vector, Pebble, Coin, and Fitstar, all in preparation for its entrance into the multipurpose smartwatch segment later this year.
Wearable companies and business units that are experiencing trouble need to identify the crucial value of their wearable byproducts – namely aggregated consumer data and design preferences as well as intellectual property (IP) in software and hardware. Many established vendors are still uncertain what combination of features and specifications will satisfy the demands of a large segment of consumers. For example, Ovum's recent survey report Digital Consumer Insights 2017: Wearable Analysis discusses the untapped demand for social networking capabilities in wearables. A wearable vendor in difficulties should seek to leverage aspects of its success (backed by quantifiable data and proof of profitability), which can lead to partial IP buyouts or full acquisition talks. Key buyers of aggregated consumer health and location data include clinicians, research organizations, other wearable vendors, and government bodies.
Tech start-ups eager to continue a wearable strategy should focus on customer segment niches such as safety recipients, seniors, babies, elite athletes, and fashion followers (as found in Ovum's Wearable Devices Tracker: 2Q17), or extend toward more professional devices in medical tech and the enterprise.
The emerging enterprise market segment – as demonstrated by augmented reality products such as Google Glass, DAQRI Smart Helmet, and Microsoft HoloLens – will be the next stage of wearable growth. Educating enterprises about wearable capabilities and demonstrably impactful use cases is a challenging but necessary step for the industry to move forward. Those who are able to successfully navigate the complex buying processes and bureaucratic challenges associated with enterprise purchasing will be rewarded with multiyear contracts, bulk orders, and overall financial stability. Examples of enterprise applications include biometric security, augmented productivity, general employee fitness, and medical innovation.
Wearable Devices Tracker: 2Q17, TE0004-001186 (July 2017)
Digital Consumer Insights 2017: Wearable Analysis, TE0004-001182 (July 2017)
"Wearables vendors should shift focus to enterprises by using health data and security," TE0004-001166 (May 2017)
Wearables Unit Sales, Installed Base, and Hardware Revenue Forecasts: 2016–21, TE0004-001161 (April 2017)
Rishi Kaul, Research Analyst, Consumer Technology