Beyond the wristband: Wearables to hit $81.5 billion in sales in 2021

A new report from Gartner finds ear-worn devices to be tops in the category; the firm says smart patches that can track vitals and deliver meds are poised for growth.

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Earbuds and other devices that fit in the ear have taken the top spot in the wearables category and should continue to hold that place through the next two years, according to a new report from Gartner.

According to the new report, "Forecast Analysis: Wearable Electronic Devices, Worldwide," users will spend $81.5 billion on these trackers and fitness devices in 2021, up 18% from  $69 billion last year. Consumers spent $32.9 billion on ear-worn devices in 2020, which was an increase of 124%. That figure is expected to hit $39.2 billion this year.

Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner, said in a press release that the need to monitor overall health more closely and possible COVID-19 symptoms, in particular, has presented a significant opportunity for the wearables market. 

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"Ear-worn devices and smartwatches are seeing particularly robust growth as consumers rely on these devices for remote work, fitness activities, health tracking, and more," he said.

Research firm Canalys also predicts that smart fitness bands will pass 200 million units in 2021. The company also thinks that sales of wearable bands and earbuds will do better than smartphone sales. A research analyst for the firm, Cynthia Chen, said in a press release that the global pandemic hurt smartphone sales but helped wearables and earbuds. 

"Consumers' attention to health and wellness has increased significantly during the pandemic, which is a great opportunity for wearable devices, such as those from Xiaomi, Garmin, Fitbit, and Huami," she said.  

Canalys predicts that wearable bands will grow at 12% in 2021.

Gartner divides the category into smartwatches and wristbands and expects smartwatch sales to grow through this year thanks to new processors and improvements to batteries.

Gartner is now tracking the sales of smart patches in the broader wearables category and predicts that the devices will see significant growth in 2021. These patches are like bandaids that can measure temperature, heart rate, blood sugar, and other vital signs. Some patches can deliver medication such as insulin.

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Atwal said that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of these devices.

"The shift to e-health, especially during COVID-19, will transform users' perceptions of automated health provision and increase the demand for smart patches," he said in a press release.

According to the report, Gartner predicts that improvements in miniaturization will also influence the market and by 2024, 10% of all wearable devices will be nearly invisible to the user.

"Continued advances in miniaturization and integration will enable further use cases and benefit adoption of smart garments, printed wearables, ingestibles, and smart patches," Atwal said.

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