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Big smartwatch push at CES anticipates Apple's entry later in 2015

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 5, 2015
LAS VEGAS -- At International CES this week, more than 500 vendors are showing off wearable computing gear of some flavor or other.

LAS VEGAS — At International CES this week, more than 500 vendors are showing off wearable computing gear of some flavor or other.

Among the 569 companies officially listed on the CES website, some are pushing silicon chips for embedding in clothes and shoes while others are promoting wearable computing accessories. Vendors are displaying commercially available smartwatches and smart glasses. Others are showing how wearables have become smarter by coupling data about individuals with enormous data sets in the cloud.

Given the normal course of modern technology, about 90% of these companies will fade away or give up on their wearable products within three years and move on to the next big thing.

That doesn't mean wearable computing will go away. Even if just 10% of the vendors at CES stick with their creations, that will mean more than 50 companies remain active in wearable computing. In the future, others will surely enter the space.

What CES 2015 will show is that wearables — and smartwatches in particular — will begin to grow in popularity.

"Wearable demand is greater than you think," Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder wrote in a December note to chief marketing officers. "Setting aside wearables hype — and anti-wearables hype — quantitative data shows that people and businesses demonstrate strong demand for wearables."

Smartwatches alone have advanced considerably since last year's CES. Samsung has five different models, including the most recent $350 Gear S, which has a 2-in. curved display and voice calling with support from various wireless networks. Earlier, Google's Android Wear OS inspired the Moto 360 smartwatch and the LG G Watch. Microsoft has its own smart Band, a kind of fitness-focused smartwatch. And Intel recently engineered the MICA as a gemstone-embedded $495 smart bracelet that works over the 3G AT&T cellular data network without the need to connect to a smartphone.

Apple Watch: The one to track

The big elephant in the room is Apple, which has promoted the Apple Watch for release sometime in 2015, probably the second quarter. While Apple won't officially exhibit at CES, it is again expected to dominate attention. The big question being debated on investor blogs is whether Apple will sell as few as 3 million or as many as 30 million Apple Watches in the first year of sales.

Given Apple's success with the iPhone and the iPad, the Apple Watch is the tech product to keep an eye on in 2015.

If Apple sells 30 million watches in 2015, that would account for 75% of the global forecast of 40 million smartwatches overall that Gartner predicts will be sold for the year. But the forecasts for Apple Watch and other smartwatch models are all over the map: Research group FutureSource predicts 20 million smartwatches will be sold in 2015, half of Gartner's forecast. In 2014, Gartner said 10 million smartwatches were sold, and that the number will reach 60 million in 2016.


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