Wearables Hitting A Plateau, What This Mean For Precious Metals?

(Kitco News) -2014 was the year of the wristband – electronic devices, typically with no screen, to track health and fitness and many are hoping that trend will continue in 2015.

Wearables continue to be the hopefuls of precious metal fabricators, gold in particular, who are enjoying seemingly limitless market growth for electronic circuits and wiring. According to technology research firm, Gartner, more than 70 million units were sold last year.

Despite of the greater prominence of smart watches sparked by Apple’s release of the Apple Watch this year, the total market for this device category is expected to remain stagnant. 3 million buyers are expected to be shifting from wristbands to smartwatches.

Information remains inconsistent as to Apple’s success with the Apple Watch, with some sources reporting full shelves and others informing about large groups of customers not having received their pre-orders. What to make of it all?

Wristbands, in the absence of screens or broad applications, remain of limited use to monitor health indicators or personal fitness. A new study of MBLM recently reported that wristbands have a high “ditch rate” of just 60 days on average. Large consumer groups apparently also get bored quickly with their Apple Watches, with the “thrill of using” dissipating after just 30 days.

“The initial demand for the Apple Watch looks lackluster”, said Brian Blair, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities, in a recent interview with CNBC. “It’s nice to get notifications, but it’s a nonessential product.

“I think many estimates for the calendar year have to come down” he added with a view to inventories.

The issue is not limited to the Apple Watch – Android based products from LG, Sony, Motorola, Samsung and others are stalling, too, with just 720,000 units sold in 2014, a number equaled by pioneer Pebble who sold 700,000 units during the same time period.

A major damper on the “thrill of wearing”, of course is the issue of battery life.

The industry’s hopes, therefore, are already refocusing from wristbands and smartwatches to electronically enhanced textiles. Products that are not only wearable but also stretchable, washable or foldable, products that can be printed on or made transparent. Products with the ability of harvesting kinetic energy to stay powered up.

Google’s “Project Soli” is currently paving the way to gesture control, eliminating the need for interfaces big enough for touch control. Levi Strauss, producer of jeans and other garments, recently introduced “Project Jacquard” as an early offspring, using circuits woven into cloth to control electronic devices.

The bottom line: the smartwatch as we know it may be short-lived, unless its energy issues can be resolved. It is likely to evolve into yet another category of products based on textile technology that will, literally, envelop our entire bodies instead of just our wrists. Analysts predict that by 2018 we will see these products going mainstream, broadening the market for technology metals to new horizons.

Bodo Albrecht
President – BASIQ Corp.