Thanks to cloud computing and the expansion of the Internet, we are now living in a world in which everyone can access data and applications from virtually anywhere. Nevertheless, a new generation of hi-tech devices seeks to make accessing to the Internet network even easier. Market analysts predict that customers are ready to engage with the power of wearable devices anticipated to be released over the coming years. And there is no shortage of gizmos to be excited about. Apple is preparing to launch their iWatch in October of this year and Google starts selling its Smart Glass by the end of 2014.. The wearable market is slated to receive products in three categories: smart watches, smart glasses, and wearable fitness devices. Much like the rise of the smartphone, the rise of wearable computing devices is promising, not to forget the opportunities and potential revenue it will generate for the technology industry.

Wearable devices, or ‘wearables’for short, have enormous potential for uses in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, commerce, and media. The possibilities appear to be endless; from helping us gather information from the Internet by voice control, to taking pictures and recording videos at any moment throughout our day, wearables promise to transform our lives in more ways than we can imagine.

The wearables industry holds itself out to be the next big thing since the inception of the smart phone. The market is expected to reach $10 billion by 2016, only to grow to $12 billion by 2018; and there is no shortage of market participants trying to claim a piece of the market for their own. Big technology players like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Nike, Samsung, and Sony along with each company’s requisite developer communities, are already waging platform wars. Only time will tell who is going to end up on top.

The Current Game

Initially, the smartphone will serve as the network hub for many wearable devices, which will display information communicated by the smartphone. The current major smartphone makers have already adopted the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, which enables users to connect peripherals, like smart-watches and smart glasses, to their smartphones to access their connection to the Internet. As a result, the battle over the wearable computing market is most likely going to divide along similar lines as the smartphone wars, with devices powered by Googles Android platform competing with devices utilizing Apples iOS or Microsofts Windows.

Leading Products in the Market

Smart Glasses

One of the most famous and iconic wearable devices today is the Smart Glass from Google. The glasses are expected to augment reality, provide real-time information to consumers about their surroundings, and enable quicker and more seamless communications. With Google Glass, the user can keep their heads up and stay connected to reality while taking pictures, reading emails, surfing the Internet, following GPS navigation, and controlling the device through voice-activated and possibly gesture-based commands. The first round of glass products are all expected to ship to consumers in 2014.

While there are rumors of similar products from Microsoft and Samsung—but no public announcements—there are also a variety of other potential players, such as Vunix with its M100 smart glasses, Recon Instruments’Jet sunglasses, which display fitness and map information, and Meta’s SpaceGlasses, which feature two projection screens instead of one.

Smart Watches

The second segment of the market is the smart watch, and there is no shortage of name brands attracting attention. Samsung and Sony have taken the lead  with their respective releases of the Galaxy Gear smart-watch and the Sony Smart-watch MN2. With the smart-watch, users can receive emails, texts, and phone calls on their watch. At the same time, Apple is also preparing to introduce their first innovation in this marketthe iWatch. Apple plans to carve out a niche in the healthcare market with the iWatch, in attempt to differentiate itself from its competition. The iWatch features a heart-rate monitor, step tracker, as well as reading a persons hydration levels, blood pressure, and sweat levels.

Wristbands

Other companies are producing popular health-monitoring wristbands and apps, such as Jawbone (UP), Adidas (miCoach), Fitbit (Flex), and Nike (FuelBand). It’s anticipated that the smart-watch and wristband markets will merge over time, as the health wristbands develop deeper smartphone integration, and as the smart-watches include more health monitoring features. But it’s not just a matter of product substitution, the market doesn’t appear to be large enough to simultaneously host both segments.

Future Trends

The wearable device market has yet to fully launch—many products are only rumored, in beta testing, or announced for future launches. As the first major wave of devices reaches consumers late 2014, key industry players will be closely observing the reception. If early sales are strong, competitors are likely to accelerate and enhance their own wearable device offerings. In fact, market analysts project a boom in the sales of wearables but do not agree on the size of the industry. IMS Research predicts that wearable device sales will climb from 14 million devices sold in 2011 to 170 million in 2016. On the other hand, BI Intelligence projects 100 million in annual sales in 2014 with a climb to 300 million in 2018. ABI Research anticipates 485 million devices sold in 2018. With market projections all over the place, everyone is eager to find out how consumers react to the first wave of device offerings.

In the end, it will take more than just consumer excitement to drive the adoption of wearable computing devices for the long term. Wearables must be able to offer more than just a hands-free alternative to the smart phone; and the focus on health care may not be enough to develop a viable industry. Like most other technology trends, the wearable device industry gives rise to significant potential profits and opportunities, but the size and life of the industry is still elusive.. If the evolution of smartphones and tablets is any indication of the future of wearable computing, we may be knocking on the doors of another technology revolution.