Global shipments of smart clothing items, including shirts, socks and shoes decked out with an embedded computing device, are set to rise steeply in the next five years, according to a forecast from technology research firm ABI Research.
ABI has found that smart clothing items will be the second fastest growing area in wearable devices, behind ‘hearables’, however the technology will continue to have one of the lowest wearable device market shares.
ABI has forecast that the global smart clothing market is poised to exceed 31 million device shipments annually by 2022, up from just under 5 million this year.
Highly targeted consumer applications within the sports, fitness and wellness markets are currently fuelling growth, according to the research.
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“The majority of smart clothing shipments will be primarily driven by consumer applications, with growing enterprise applications in worker safety and monitoring over the next few years,” ABI research analyst Ryan Harbison said in a statement.
“Today’s market targets mostly sports professionals, as the clothing offers more accurate readings than other wearables because it is so close to the skin and other vital organs. As vendors expand the use case potential, the technology will prove its worth, cut its costs and reach a wider array of both consumer and enterprise users.”
Brands such as Ralph Lauren, Google and Levi’s have a presence in the market, and ABI expects it is only a matter of time before other larger tech players join Google in entering the market.
Harbison, however, observed that before reaching mass adoption, smart clothing embedded sensor technology needs to improve.
“The sensors have to withstand conditions that other wearables don’t, such as body sweat, wash cycles and extreme temperature variances,” he said.
“Vendors will have to solve this through innovative manufacturing and do so before consumers voice these concerns.”
“For instance, Google and Levi’s new Commuter Trucker Jacket is one of the most exciting new products within this market, but even that is targeted at a very specific niche market: the urban bike commuter,” Harbison said.
“Vendors should focus on continuing to create targeted consumer-centric applications, while also developing enterprise applications to give this market wider appeal.”