2015: A year in review for wearable tech

The biggest stories from the past 12 months of wearables
2015: A year in review

Another year, dear friends, another year. So many new ones of you now! We blush, we fan ourselves with well-worn hankies and feign unending modesty. You are too kind; too kind, really.

It has been a pleasure, it has been ride, and now it is time to look back on these moments we have shared before jetting off on yet another adventure at the very wing-tip of technology itself.

This is the year that was – 2015: a year in review for wearable tech.

January: CES 2015 and 2016 prophecy

The Consumer Electronics Show, CES to its friends, is how technology begins the year and there were plenty of wearables that caught our attention in Las Vegas, even if Apple did its usual job of upstaging everybody else - this year by dropping the news that the Apple Watch was scheduled for launch at the end of April.

Both Guess and Montblanc turned up from the luxury end of the business to let us know that they had some connected bits and pieces in the works. Plus, of course, more regular attendees such as Sony and Microsoft made very positive steps. The latter blew us away by unveiling the AR HoloLens program and the former with something a lot less grand but very significant. Sony said it would be making a steel version of the SmartWatch 3 and it's since become a top seller and firm Wareable favourite.

Of the smaller players, it was the Misfit Shine in Swarovski form that we most enjoyed, not least of all because it became the first solar-powered wearable. It also reminded us how important battery tech is going to be in our field which was why we were thrilled when the flexible battery prototype from Japan's J.Flex hit the headlines in the same month. How else are smart clothes going to happen?

Perhaps the most prophetic products in January, though, were both fairly minor messages at the time. Over in Vegas, the Zensorium Being mood-sensing smartwatch made a lot of promises which we doubt it will keep but it was a big clue as to the next frontier of mind-monitoring devices that we're expecting to see a lot of in 2016. As for the other, well that was all about Oculus announcing the Story Studio. Again, expect big things here as movie content for VR goes berserk over the coming 12 months.

February: Swisstacular

Mondaine was the biggest story in February by becoming the first of the traditional Swiss watchmakers to release a smartwatch. With one of the highest review scores of any we'd tested to date, the Mondaine Helvetica No.1 Smart has certainly not been a case of first the worst. At the same time, in the same field, Pebble finally hit the one million sales mark - even if it had taken two years to manage it.

Big name wearable maker Will.i.am did not hit it so lucky, however, with February a month that the Black Eyed Pea would doubtless rather forget. His Puls bracelet was described as a "wearable nightmare" in reviews, and that was one of the kinder comments.

While the critics were taking care of that, Apple's Jonathan Ive delivered a quick kick in the kidneys to Google Glass which was already on its knees. Perhaps it was easy to then realise that "the face is the wrong place" for augmented reality.

While those two stalwarts were squabbling, sports clothes maker Under Armour made a serious move, from which we're only just beginning to discover the effects one year later. By picking up both Endomondo and food tracking app MyFitnessPal, it positioned itself as a huge brand in the fitness and well-being connected world.

And, as for new boys, Neeo, a smart home remote that connects to you, took Kickstarter by storm to the tune of $13 million. Nice work if you can get it.

March: High heels and higher promises

There were two things that took place in March. The first is that people went crazy for smart shoes; quite why, we're not sure. Xiaomi announced that it would have a pair, budget, of course, on sale in Asia, with chips in its souls to analyse your running form. The Chinese tech giant also chucked in a $16 set of smart scales too, just to make anyone with a Withings or Fibit model feel like they'd been ripped off.

A smart shoe of a very different kind, though, arrived on Indiegogo. The very high-heeled, e-paper-lined Volvorii Timeless looked like it was a sure bet to make it to its $50,000 goal. It fell less than 10 grand short. Sad times.

Oh, and the other thing that happened? Yeah, Magic Leap posted that demo video on YouTube - the one that got over 3 million views and has had everyone interested in AR drooling ever since.

April: Apple Watched

Something called an Apple Watch turned up in April. We're not sure what that was all about. And the month was made even watchier with the LG Watch Urbane arriving on the shelves and the intriguing news that Samsung's next smartwatch would be round. As it turns out, it was.

More significant, though, was Mark Zuckerberg's speech on why Facebook had decided to buy the hottest wearable in town - namely, Oculus Rift. In hindsight, it's rather obvious that the social power of VR could be enormous but we still suspect the real reason was because he had nothing better to do with his giant lakes of cash.

Another company, and doubtless its shareholders, quietly breathed a collective sigh of relief as it launched not one but two new fitness bands - the UP2 and UP4. Until then, there had been one or two murmurs about Jawbone. A quick $300 million injection of investment went a long way, too.

May: It's Pebble Time

Salt Lake City became somewhere you might want to visit in May 2015 when The Void VR theme park made a collective clunk as jaws dropped at the thought of a place where you can run around and pretend to be in Lord of the Rings. A little more grounded was when Google announced its smart home platform, Brillo, at the company's I/O developer conference in Silicon Valley, but there were some genuine, ready-to-order products to look at that month too.

Fitbit girded its loins for the Xiaomi Mi Band's assault on the West by teaming up with Strava. The Pebble Time finally shipped too, even if the company did have to take a big, fat loan to make sure it happened.

Silent, and maybe more significant, perhaps, was the word that Garmin had finally caved into the pressure of wrist-worn optical heart-rate readings as it brought forth the Forerunner 225 into the world, but would it prove to be a winner?

June: Thync smart

It was a sad month for Kickstarter and all those who'd invested in the CST-01 e-paper watch - not to mentioned the company founders themselves - when, after two years of set backs and delays, they admitted defeat. Fortunately, there were three new exciting wearables announced that same month, plus we launched the Wareable Forum so that everyone could talk about them. It's still there. Take a look.

In fact, exciting is definitely the right word to use for Lovely. It's a sex wearable that you pop on the old chap. It analysis performance, keeps you at 'peak performance' (we're not sure how) and there's a vibrator thrown in just to make sure.

A little more sedate but, well, probably more useful was the creation of the Nest Cam which became the third of the now Google-owned smart home leader.

All the same, for us, it was Thync that stole the show. We're only finding out now if it really can change your mood with a few quick blasts.

July: Hive and hello to wearable payments

It was a summer for splurging as Apple Pay arrived in the UK and meant that we could buy whatever we wanted with a quick flick of our wrists. It might not have taken the world by storm but it's a definite grower for 2016.

It was also the second coming for two smart products. The first was the Moto Hint earbud with better audio, better battery life and some nice hands-free, voice controlling. Great but it didn't gain anything like the added traction that Hive did when British Gas relaunched the Nest thermostat alternative complete with a funky new design from product guru Yves Béhar. Certainly better than the white box approach.

Sony took things to another level by going biometric with its B-trainer in-ear headphones which you can pick up now, which makes a change from having to wait 18 months for a start-up to get itself together.

One that we'll have to hang on quite some time for, though, is the second coming of Google Glass which began its rebirth in July when some patents surfaced about how it might start letting us frame the world with our fingers.

August: Adidas acquisition

With the IFA 2016 trade show just around the corner, August was full of blurry shots of anticipated smartwatches but there were some official announcements made too. After a lot of hot air and guff, Swatch gave us something solid on what it was going to do in the connected age.

In the same field, Sony finally made us realise that crowdfunding had jumped the shark when it said it was seeking backers to help create/virally market its upcoming Wena analogue smartwatch. At least Blocks was keeping it real even if it was with a few teaser shots. It showed us just what all this modularity, that had promised for so long, was actually going to look like; pretty darned impressive, was the answer.

Something else that could look seriously impressive would be if the virtual world game, Second Life, could receive the VR shot in the arm that it needs. That was the promise made by its developers, Linden Labs. Fingers crossed for that one in 2016.

At the same time, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany demonstrated that all the others were utterly wasting their time.

iSkin was its little bit of fun that it came up with. Stick these pressure sensors directly to your flesh and you can tap just your arm to control anything you like. Invisibles, anyone?

And just in case you were missing yet another big money sports acquisition in 2015, August was the turn of Adidas to reassert its claim on the fitness crown by coughing up $200m for Runtastic. Yes, quite; why didn't we all start running platforms about two years ago?

September: Samsung does IFA

September was about Samsung when, as is its want, it stole the show at IFA 2016 in Berlin. Normally managing this by hogging an entire exhibition hall for itself, all the Koreans needed this time was the all-round Samsung Gear S2 to do the trick - that and a nice side serving of the Smart Things smart home platform all ready to take over your connected home.

In smaller stands elsewhere, the Asus ZenWatch 2 showed that you don't need to be rich to be my girl when this Android Wear beauty was found with a modest price tag, and Lenovo did something called Magic View, which we're all still struggling to understand now.

If on your wrist all sounds a bit boring, those presidential candidates in the States were showing us how to do it implantable style. White House hopeful, Zoltan Istvan, got himself double chipped in the quest for furthering science research at policy level.

If that's not your kind of entertainment, then how about a full tour of the starship Enterprise mark D all laid out with the full 42 decks rendered in VR glory. A mysterious 3D-artist named Jason was the person who made it so.

October: Out of this world

October was the month that wearables went into space with NASA revealing the winner of its astronaut smartwatch app competition. B, by UX designer Ignacio Calvo and mechanical engineer Jocelyn Richard, walked away with the fairly meagre grand prize but at least had the pleasure of knowing that their work would be in the stars.

Back on earth, it was down with a bump for the crowdfunded AmpStrip invisible gym tracker. The company had to admit that it had bitten off more than it could chew, and our dreams of a future present looked destined for a three year delay at best. Fortunately, Magic Leap was there with yet another mind-blowing video to pep us up a little. This time, what we got was a genuine POV of what it will be like looking through the company's mystery wearable. Again the answer was - mesmeric.

Google was another which aimed for the heavens with its Life Sciences department announcing plans for a sensor-packed, solar-powered contact lens.

All in all, though, it was probably Disney that grabbed the headlines. It went wonderfully commercial with its range of Avengers-inspired wearable toys, making us all wish we were eight-year-olds again. On far better note, however, a company named Open Bionics partnered with the cartoon giant and unveiled Iron Man, Elsa and Luke Skywalker designs for prosthetics arms for children with limb difficulties.

November: Cheese watch

November was a month of fruition where all sorts of promises ended up coming true. Getting gadgets on the shelves in time for Christmas may have had something to do with it.

The Skully AR motorcycle finally shipped, as did the Pebble Time Round, the Huawei smartwatch and Altruis smart jewellery - all of them worth your time.

TomTom and Apple added to the wrist-based fun with the former upgrading its golfing device and the latter apparently selling 7 million smartwatches, which is more than all of its competitors put together; show offs.

The real smart story, though, was undeniably what was, at the least, the second most significant launch of 2015 - that of the full luxury, fully Android Wear Tag Heuer Connected. The incident with the cheese is also a must read.

While smartwatches went crazy expensive, smart bulbs were at least heading in the other direction as the incredibly reasonable $19 Qube hit Indiegogo. Fingers crossed for that one, as indeed we have our digits that way for the rumoured Microsoft Clip - a supposed Cortana virtual assistant hearable that will turn our present into the one described in Her - hopefully without all mass heart ache, though.

Last, and most certainly not least of all, Unicef announced the winners of its Wearables for Good challenge which had been bubbling away for most of the year. No spoilers. Go and have a look for yourself and feel optimistic about the world for once.

December: Virtually VR

Was that a year? So quick!

Fossil and Breitling managed to squeeze their smartwatches in at the bell to make 2015 as huge as predicted for wearables. The Fossil Q range, as overseen by Misfit's Sonny Vu - post company takeover times - boasts now four smarties including the attractive, analogue and absurdly named Fossil Q Grant. Sadly there's no Fossil Divine Brown to go with it.

As for Breitling, true to brand, it's a pilots-only affair with the B55 Exospace, which is just as sky high in price as its intended end use.

We strongly predicted, in our annual Wareable 50 movers and shakers, what to look out for in the coming year and decided that VR's the star for 2016. Plus December brought a little taster of what's to come with the full launch of the Samsung Gear VR as well as news of the ETA of the highly impressive HTC Vive.

And finally, the year looks to be ending with only one real focus throughout the world, the galaxy and beyond as the relaunch of the Star Wars franchise prompted us to look at how wearable Lucas's vision had been for the first six films.

There's something to chew on until we get back with the serious business of CES all over again. Happy holidays.


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