Wearable tech has been consistently big news in the digital world this year.

Recent announcements have included futuristic products like ear pieces that translate from other languages, wristbands that give an electric shock if you go overdrawn, and other new productsOur head of mobile development has talked us through five key questions on wearable tech.

What are wearables?

‘Wearables’ is the most common term used to refer to electronic devices that can be worn, either as a physical instrument like the Apple Watch, or as an element embedded in clothing. Most wearables can connect to an information or database network through the Internet.

Wearables encompass a wide variety of devices, ranging from health and fitness monitors, to wearable cameras such as GoPro, to virtual or augmented reality glasses and headsets such as Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and Microsoft HoloLens.

What’s going on in the market?

Although wearables are still a very new form of technology, the wearables market has been rapidly expanding and is projected to continue to see exponential growth.

Some analysts forecast a $6 billion market in wearables for 2016, and expect that number to quadruple by 2019. Between 15 and 20% of consumers were already using wearables as of the end of 2015.

Some general predictions for wearables this year include:

  • Fashionable wearables -designer and tech collaborations have already begun, and as wearable technology matures, the focus has moved onto more fashionable-looking accessories.
  • A focus on hardware - previously, wearables have been developed using processors, batteries and components developed for other devices, however, we will soon see manufacturers building components specifically for wearables.
  • Intel as a major player - after acknowledging that it lost opportunities in the smartphone boom, Intel has committed to being a leader in the wearables industry with major investments.

What challenges do wearables face?

The main obstacle faced by wearables is that the majority of them are not stand-alone devices. They need a connected smartphone to fully utilise them, and are seen as a companion interface for existing apps. This can create an additional barrier to usage.

Another, slightly obvious, issue is their small screens. The contrast between those and the increasingly bigger screens of smartphones, with rich high definition experiences, can discourage potential users from making that extra purchase. Loading up apps on these small screens doesn’t always aid the promise of getting stuff done faster or more efficiently with wearables.

What’s the deal with virtual reality?

Virtual reality is the most discussed wearable tech of 2016. Sectors such as sport, entertainment are looking at ways to bring events to the homes of users, and medical organisations have started to use virtual reality in research and training.

However, launches this year have been marred by hardware shortages and a lack of exciting apps. Oculus, HTC and Samsung only fulfilled half of their pre-orders this year. Expectations for revenues from VR have been lowered repeatedly.

What’s next for wearable technology?

The current top five sectors in terms of wearable tech and virtual reality adoption are fitness, healthcare, home automation, military and entertainment (including sports). It is within these sectors that we can expect to see the most investment and development over the next few years. The current specific technology leaders are Fitbit, Mi, Apple, Garmin and Samsung.

Wearable technology is expanding as quickly as any other technology product in history. There are predictions that this year could see a 600% increase in the total number of wearable users, with a large number of that coming from companies new to wearable tech and virtual reality. Even if these estimates are lofty, a steady  increase in production and sales seems likely.