2016: The year in wearable tech

A look back on a bumper year for smartwatches, fitness trackers, VR and more...
Wareable is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Happy new year Wareable readers.

2017 looks set to be an incredibly exciting year for the wearable tech industry - we've already picked out the biggest trends for next year in our Wareable 50, and our US editor Hugh looked at how wearable tech would impact your life in the coming 12 months.

However, we thought we better take one final look back at the world of wearables in 2016, making sure that you're all up to speed with all the major news, reviews and analysis of the past 365 days.

Let's get started...


2016: The year in wearable tech

January in tech is all about one thing - CES. We saw a plethora of new devices going live over in Las Vegas at CES 2016 – make sure you check out our best in show picks.

It was a big show for VR announcements: The price and release date for Oculus Rift were revealed for the first time and the HTC Vive Pre - a new dev unit - was shown off at the expo. More on both of these later.

Fitbit had a mixed week over in Vegas. After unveiling the Fitbit Blaze, its share price took a hammering. Our editor Michael Sawh explains why right here. And, if that wasn't bad enough, Fitbit was also targeted with a class action lawsuit over the accuracy of its heart rate tracking. Double whammy.

There were no Android Wear launches from the usual suspects but a couple of new sporty Google-powered smartwatches were detailed at the show.

For one, the Casio Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10 is a smartwatch for outdoorsy types who are looking for a waterproof, shockproof and vibration proof wearable that's certified to US military standards. Sports apparel giant New Balance also announced that it planned on launching a running focused Android Wear smartwatch in 2016, although that hasn't happened yet.

Under Armour unveiled a family of fitness hardware under a new HealthBox line. The headline-grabbing device was the UA Band fitness tracker.

Under Armour weren't the only company with new fitness trackers on show - Withings unleashed the E Ink Go and Fossil revealed its latest Q watch / tracker hybrid. Misfit launched the Misfit Ray at CES 2016 and also announced the Specter headphones, although - again - we're yet to see them in the real world.


2016: The year in wearable tech

After the fallout of the Blaze, Fitbit came bouncing back with the Alta in February; its fashion conscious budget tracker.

It was less swiping, more talking and wrist-shaking with the early-Feb Android Wear update, with users able to send messages via voice with WhatsApp and make calls with some devices, and a new gesture set letting them expand a card, bring up apps, or return home with a push, lift or shake of their arm.

At the end of the month, the sun set on another year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with wearable tech yielding some of the biggest talking points. The enduring memory of the show will be Zuckerberg talking to a room of Gear VR clad journalists in a slightly dystopian vision of the future and, yes, we were there.

Despite VR making the headlines the wrist wasn't forgotten, and while there wasn't an AAA brand smartwatch to get stuck into, a pair of new Garmin's were outed (Vivofit 3 and Vivoactive HR) and Sony revealed the Xperia Ear for the first time.


2016: The year in wearable tech

Arguably the biggest wearable news of the month was the HTC Vive going on pre-order sale. The VR headset, which came bundled with a pair of controllers and headphones, apparently shifted 15,000 units in under 10 minutes.

Sticking with headsets and the Microsoft HoloLens developer edition was finally up for grabs with Windows Insiders also to apply to grab the holographic headset for a cool $3,000.

SXSW kicked off in Austin and, ahead of the show, Fossil revealed the Fossil Q Motion, which tracks steps, sleep and all the usual metrics. The Motion would form part of an army of almost 100 wearable devices from Fossil in 2016.

In the same month Fossil also announced the Q Tailor, Q Crewmaster, Q Mate and Q Glazer over in Baselworld, joining two new Android Wear smartwatches: The Q Marshal and Q Wander, also announced at the Switzerland watch expo. Nixon also joined the Android Wear party with its water resistant and GPS rocking Android Wear debut The Mission.

Finally, with a clue of what was to come Pebble's CEO Eric Migicovsky revealed that he was letting go 40 members of staff; around 25% of the Pebble workforce.


2016: The year in wearable tech

Oculus Rift finally launched in April 2016 - if you pre-ordered one as soon as you possibly could. Check our ultimate Oculus Rift guide and our pick of the Oculus Rift games to play if you bought one this year.

Also in April, the CoWatch, an Android powered smartwatch from a startup including former Android and Android Wear developers was announced - the first smartwatch to include Amazon's Alexa personal assistant. At the time it wasn't such big news but, given the company was gobbled up by Google in December, we reckon it's pretty significant now.

Nokia jumped into digital health and wearable tech with the acquisition of Withings, the French company that really 'gets' the connected health movement. The deal, worth €170 million, saw Withings swallowed whole by Nokia.


2016: The year in wearable tech

We first got wind of a Samsung Gear Fit sequel when a grainy image hit the web and, in May we got official confirmation about the Samsung Gear Fit2 which was announced, along with the IconX smart sports earbuds.

Garmin's latest GPS sports watch, the Forerunner 735XT went live in May, aimed at runners, swimmers and cyclists. Garmin also revealed its smart analogue hybrid - the Vivomove - during the month.

Mid-month was all about Google I/O and exciting news about Android Wear 2.0 and Daydream VR. But, while the latter has impressed, the former is STILL yet to arrive. Boo indeed.

The month ended with Pebble still acting like a bedroom startup by launching its newest products onto Kickstarter: the Pebble Time 2 and the Pebble 2, along with the company's first non-smartwatch, the Pebble Core. Sadly only one of these would see the light of day but more on that in a bit.


2016: The year in wearable tech

We didn't get an Apple Watch 2 (not that we were really expecting to), but Apple did use its WWDC 2016 keynote to announce watchOS 3. Standout features included faster apps, easier to use controls and extra wellbeing features. Apple also unveiled Home, a dedicated app that will control all of your HomeKit devices from one place.

Also in June, sales of Intel's Basis Peak were halted due to an issue with a small number of the fitness wearable that are causing overheating, burns, blisters and discomfort. At the time Basis said it was working on a software update to remedy the issue, but we now know it turned into a total clusterfuck with refunds being offered all over the shop.


2016: The year in wearable tech

Doppler Labs dropped a new version of its hearable Here One in July, which uses algorithms to isolate and strip out background noises you don't want to hear, like misinformed Brexit chat or whimpering politicians. As well as music listening and kipping on noisy aeroplanes, there's support for music streaming and voice companions such as Alexa, Google Now and Siri. After delays later in the year, the launch was pushed back to February 2017.

Fitbit was in legal bother... again. This time it was its sleep tracking tech coming under fire. Allegedly misrepresentative claims on Fitbit Flex packaging, were the subject of a class action lawsuit. Fitbit attempted to get the case thrown out, citing "bad science" in the evidence presented, but a judge ruled that it would move forward.

Also in July, more proof that not all crowdfunded campaigns are successful. Skully - the startup behind the $1,500 augmented reality motorcycle helmet, was the latest casualty.


2016: The year in wearable tech

In August we reported on whispers that Jawbone was actively trying to sell itself to get out of financial difficulty. However, the company moved to deny such rumours, despite overwhelming press to the contrary, with a person close to the company reaching to Wareable to insist that "Jawbone is not actively seeking to sell the company."

It was a tough month for Jawbone all round - a judge ruled that Fitbit did not steal its rivals trade secrets. Jawbone had accused Fitbit of poaching its staff, exploiting their inside knowledge of Jawbone's technology and infringing a number of patents. However, the judge found in favour of Fitbit, ruling that "no party has been shown to have misappropriated any trade secret."

Here's something we weren't expecting - a new sports smartwatch hybrid from Polar - the M600. Optical HR, GPS, waterproofing, it's got the lot.

McDonald's put kid-friendly fitness trackers inside Happy Meals but the quest to help little ones burn off those fries backfired when the fast-food giant had to recall the Step-It wearable due to complaints of skin irritations and burns.


2016: The year in wearable tech

September is IFA month and it was an absolute belter of a show as far as wearable tech was concerned. Here's a round-up of all the major announcements, including details on the Samsung Gear S3, the Asus ZenWatch 3, the Withings Steel HR and the TomTom Adventurer.

Announced on the eve of the expo, Fitbit finally took the covers off of the much anticipated Charge 2 - as well as the all-new Fitbit Flex 2 as well.

Qualcomm unveiled its vision for the future of VR, with a reference platform for headsets that don't require a smartphone. Qualcomm Snapdragon VR820 uses the company's mobile processor to deliver the experience.

After months of speculation, Tim Cook and the gang revealed the next-gen Apple smartwatch. The Apple Watch Series 2 added some pretty big new features but it wasn't the only new wearable coming out of Cupertino though. The wireless Apple AirPods are button-less; double tapping on an AirPod will let you access Siri to select and control your music, change the volume and check your battery life.


2016: The year in wearable tech

Only one thing really mattered in October 2016: the first ever Wareable Tech Awards. The new Apple Watch Series 2 smartwatch took two gongs, Smartwatch of the Year and the prized Wearable of the Year. Garmin's do-it-all Vivosmart HR+ won the highly contested Fitness Tracker of the Year Award and the Moov Now beat stiff competition to take home the Sports Wearable of the Year Award.

On the VR front the HTC Vive was named VR Headset of the Year, despite strong competition from the Highly Commended Sony PlayStation VR (which also hit the shops in the same month).


2016: The year in wearable tech

Fresh off an announcement from Honor about its S1 fitness-focused wearable, Huawei decided to reveal the Android and iOS-friendly Huawei Fit for its international audience.

The Vinci 3D Smart Headphones were the latest Kickstarter sensation. Essentially a phone on your ears, the hefty hearable stores and plays music, has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 aptX and 3G connections (via a SIM card), a voice assistant and activity tracking. Odd but hey, Vinci raised over $1 million.

Kickstarted headphones and Huawei news... You're correct in thinking November was a slow one for wearable tech.


2016: The year in wearable tech

Pebble took its last breath in December. There wasn't really enough time to wrap our heads around the rumors but then Fitbit released a statement saying Pebble is no more. The unreleased Pebble Time 2 and Pebble Core will stay hidden away and all the software now belongs to Fitbit.

People took to Twitter to express their outrage or to wish both companies well. We went through the stages of grief ourselves and outlined a list of reasons you should be pissed.

Also in December Spotify rolled out to the Gear S2 and the Gear S3, letting users control playback on their wrist, browse through charts, search artists and scroll through their playlists; and we got official word that Google will launch two flagship smartwatches in 2017 – the first devices running Android 2.0. The new watches will not have Google or Pixel branding, despite previous rumours of a Pixel smartwatch. Instead Google will be partnering with another manufacturer, but wouldn't confirm which.

2016: The year in wearable tech

How we test

Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

Related stories