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Despite a general global slump in wearable technology consumption, Middle East buyers are rushing out to buy the latest smartwatches and fitness bands.
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Figures from IDC for the first quarter of 2017 show that shipments of wearables were up 30% year-on-year (YoY) in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.
Shipments of basic wearables – devices that do not support third-party applications – increased by just under 17%, but it was smart wearables that significantly ramped up the market’s momentum, with shipments up around 65% YoY.
According to the latest IDC wearables report, this marks a considerable turnaround for the market with “Samsung and Apple smartwatches particularly well received in the market, both by first-time buyers and consumers looking to upgrade”.
Nakul Dogra, a senior research analyst for personal computing, systems, and infrastructure solutions at IDC MEA, said the MEA wearables market is in the midst of a major transformation.
“We are seeing an evolution of the market from fitness bands to smart wearables, such as watches, ear-wear and clothing,” said Dogra, adding that consumers now have a variety of smartwatch options to choose from.
IDC predicts that smartwatches will continue to drive growth in the wearables industry, with the MEA market expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 11.2% between 2016 and 2021.
According to Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner, consumer interest in wearable technology in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is driven by easy access to online retailers such as Sharaf DG, Mobileship, Lulu and Awok.
Brands such as Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S3, as well as sports watches and fitness wristbands, such as those from Garmin and Fitbit, are readily available, she said.
However, McIntyre said the wider commercial and corporate use of wearables in the GCC region is limited for now. “Since the value of oil exports dropped, many projects have stopped. Prior to 2015, there were exploratory projects which used smartglasses for workers,” she said.
“For example, a technician would try to fix equipment and they would share video through his or her smartglasses. An expert in a remote location would watch this video and tell the technician how to fix the equipment in real-time. The technician hears the expert through the smartglasses, which leaves his or her hands free to do the work.”
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In the next five to 10 years, Gartner’s McIntyre said wearables will become more pervasive in the GCC corporate world. “Interconnected health care systems may regularly use sensor data from wearable devices, such as smartwatches, fitness wristbands or heart monitor patches, as one way to remotely track the progress of patients recuperating at home after they have been discharged from the hospital.”
Gowtham Bandi, analyst at Frost & Sullivan, agreed that in the current market, wearables are largely consumer-focused. “Our data shows that smartwatches are expected to account for more than 50% of all wearable shipments by 2020,” he said.
“In the GCC, usage is limited to health and fitness. Although there is awareness, the use of other functionalities of wearables is lower,” he added.
Developers of wearables technology are at a major disadvantage because of short timeframes available for the developer community to create applications and comprehend the market usage, adoption and feedback, according to Bandi, with original equipment manufactuers having less time to create and test a product.
In the next five years, Bandi believes wearables will replace cards for public transport and payments in the GCC. “NFCs in smartwatches and bands will be used for identity management. Corporates will also use bands to track the health of employees, especially in the manufacturing and oil and gas industry.”
IDC’s Dogra advised wearables suppliers to focus on effectively utilising the data captured by the device sensors so the day-to-day tasks performed by users can be made more straightforward and less time consuming.
“The role of third-party application developers will be critical in achieving this, so suppliers should look to actively engage with the developer community,” added Dogra.