'Wearable' computing a growing market: IDC

San Francisco (AFP) –


Sales of "wearable" computing items -- from internet-linked watches to step-counting shoes -- will nearly double in the next few years, a market forecaster said on Wednesday.

International Data Corporation expected the overall wearables market to go from shipping 113.2 million units this year to some 222.3 million in 2021.

"Tomorrow's wearables will become more fully featured and multi-functional, spanning health and fitness to communication and productivity," said IDC wearables team manager Ramon Llamas.

"Effectively, that will make today's wearables seem quaint."

Fitness-oriented wristbands such as those from Fitbit and Xiaomi are the most popular wearables, but IDC forecast they will be overtaken by watches driven by fashion brands and those able to connect directly to the internet without synching to smartphones.

IDC expected smart watch sales, led by Apple Watch, to grow from to 71.5 million by 2021, more than doubling from 31.6 million this year.

"However, the struggle to move beyond health and fitness persists and convincing consumers to spend more for utility that may not be immediately obvious will be a challenge," said IDC mobile devices senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

"This is where fashion-forward brands have a chance to shine."

Llamas expected people to begin using a variety of wearable computing, such as ear buds infused with digital assistants or clothing infused with computing smarts.

Levi Strauss in September began selling a denim jacket with touch controls woven into the fabric in the first fashion offering stitched from a collaboration with Google.

The iconic California clothing maker, which has a legacy reaching back to the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, set out to mine the mobile internet boom with a "Trucker Jacket with Jacquard."

The denim jacket aimed at bicyclists has a sleeve cuff made of special Jacquard fabric that synchronizes wirelessly with smartphones, enabling a limited set of commands using swipes or taps.

"Traditional earphones will give way to smart earwear that feature fitness tracking, audio augmentation, or personal assistants," Llamas said.

"Clothing -- the original wearable -- will become smarter with health and fitness tracking, particularly for professional athletes."