This time last year, we all thought that 2014 would be the year of the wearable. Wearable devices seemed to be picking up steam everywhere you looked: Google Glass was picking up momentum, lots of fitness bands were flying off shelves, and everyone was waiting for Apple to jump in with its take on the smartwatch.
But for the most part, the wearable trend still seems to be on the runway. Even as we head into the biggest shopping season of the year, it's unlikely to take off, analysts say. And some of the fault may lie with the delayed debut of Apple Watch.
The truth is that anyone who buys a wearable device this Christmas will be jumping onto the bandwagon before the most highly anticipated wearable of all hits the market. Apple's offering only has the vague launch date of "early 2015."
Love or hate the tech giant, it's hard to deny that it makes a splash when it steps into a market. So for a large chunk of consumers, buying a wearable before the Apple Watch just isn't an option. As part of a six-month study of the wearable market, PriceWaterhouseCoopers asked 1,000 consumers to share how they feel about the wearable market, and found that 59 percent of them were most excited by Apple's entry into the market. (Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Nike rounded out the top five.)
The report also notes how important the Apple Watch is to the wider market, calling it a "sleek device that rivals project will help mainstream the entire wearable category."
In other words, until Apple joins the fray, everyone else is just holding their breath.
That means wearables aren't the hot tech gift this year. "I think the year to watch [for wearables to go mainstream], from my standpoint, is next year," said Mike Pegler, principal at PWC and leader of its product innovation and development practice. Pegler declined to comment on any specific companies, but said that wearables are not an area that's going to "blossom before the holidays."
That doesn't mean that there aren't options -- including some good ones -- out there for wearables shoppers: Microsoft announced last week that would jump into the wearables market; so did Hewlett-Packard, which partnered with designer Michael Bastian to release a low-priced, high-fashion smartwatch. They join Motorola, Pebble, Fitbit, Samsung and many others who want to see wearables in holiday shopping carts this year.
But in Pegler's view, the devices currently on the market can do cool things, but haven't proven themselves as indispensable. Thus, many will wait for Apple. One of the company's strengths has been explaining to consumers how its devices fit seamlessly into their lives.
Despite the uncertainty about when, exactly, the wearables market will finally take off, analysts are nearly unanimous in their belief that it will. Business Insider's research arm, BI Intelligence, projects that the market for wearables, led by "wrist-worn gadgets" will reach $12.6 billion by 2018.
And that's also not to say that all wearables will be collecting cobwebs this year. Ramon Llamas, technology analyst at International Data Corporation, noted that there's still a big pool of consumers who have absolutely no reason to wait for Apple: non-iPhone users.
Apple Watch, after all, requires you to have an iPhone. "If you're going to be an Apple Watch person, that precludes you from being a smartphone owner on Windows, Android, or anything else," Llamas said. According to IDC's report, Apple smartphones had a market share of 12 percent worldwide in the latest quarter. In the U.S., as comScore reported last month, Apple currently commands 42 percent of the smartphone market.
Not that any of that will rattle cages in Cupertino, he added. Linking the watch to the iPhone -- and keeping it hooked into Apple's growing ecosystem of apps and content from its iTunes store -- means that the company can comfortably depend on a steady fanbase that's already shown it's happy to pay more for Apple-made devices.