We wrote last week about the most trafficked posts of the year. But these are what we believe to be the most important things that happened last year — whether they were in a single post or represented an ongoing trend. These are what Wearable Tech Insider believes were the biggest stories of 2015.
1. Fitbit goes public. For all the hype, investment, and noise around wearable tech, there still has been only one public stock offering of a pure wearable play: Fitbit. The company raised vastly more money that it initially said it needed, and even then, people couldn’t get enough. The stock spent most of the time after its IPO at more than double its offering price. It’s come back to earth a little, what with tie-ups expiring and an impending secondary offering. But the IPO cemented Fitbit at the top of a highly competitive segment, and with the cash to stay there.
2. The Apple Watch shipped. Can we please stop talking about the Apple Watch? Actually, no. We won’t know for a few months yet whether analysts’ lofty consensus of 21 million units in 2015 came close. But the haters hated, the fanbois cooed, the pundits sucked their thumbs, and world in general spun neither faster nor slower. The product itself? It’s undeniably flawed, but still better than any other full-function wristware. That advantage may not last, as legacy watchmakers finally come into the market and Android Wear gets steadily better. But in 2015, the face of high-end wearable tech stopped being Google Glass and became the Apple Watch.
3. The Enterprise Strikes Back. Readers of WTI are not so foolish or shallow to believe that the fickle consumer market is where wearable tech will make its truly big money. This was the year that industrial uses of wearable tech — in particular but not limited to augmented reality — started to come into their own. Corporate users are moving from trials to full-on deployments, and the industry that supports them is segmenting and growing nicely. There’ll be more progress next year, but 2015 was the year that enterprises started to take wearables seriously.
4. Watchmakers Get Into the Game. The Swiss watch industry still remembers the near-death experience of the Japanese quartz movement; suddenly, anyone could make a cheap super-accurate watch without hundreds of years of handwork experience. Conservative as they are, the Swiss are not about to make that mistake again. 2015 was the year that legacy watchmakers looked at their business, thought hard about where they could add value, and dipped their toes into the wearables market. For Tag Heuer, that meant at $1500 Titanium Android Wear model. For Swatch, it meant a line of inexpensive sport-specific watches. For Mondaine, it meant a Withings-style watchface that still looks like its classic Swiss Rail design. None will sell the volume of Apple or Motorola, but that’s not the point of a Swiss watch. One weird thing: where are the Japanese watch giants in all of this?
5. Here Comes China. Of the top five smartwatch vendors, two (Xiaomi and BBK) are Chinese, and they don’t sell outside their home country. This is a problem for the other three — Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin — and a bigger problem for Samsung, which fell out of the Top Five for the first time.
6. The First Wave is Over. Google killed the Glass Explorer program. Intel bought Recon Instruments. Jabil bought Clothing+. Fossil bought Misfit. It’s not like consolidation has gone wild in the wearables market, but 2015 was the first year that a lot of recognizable brands got swept up by bigger companies with scale. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for smaller companies anymore. Quite the contrary: along with the Fitbit IPO, acquisitions give investors hope for exit strategies, which means there may be more startups, not fewer.