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January 8, 2014

Wearable gadgets

Samsung, Sony hope 2014 is year of wearable computing

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Will 2014 be remembered as the year wearable computing took off?

Upstart entrepreneurs and major manufacturers such as Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony certainly hope so.

Gadgets that you snap, buckle or fasten to your body are already marketed to fitness freaks obsessed with tracking every possible metric their bodies produce. There are countless smartwatches for tech nerds who'd rather glance at their wrists to check messages than reach for their smartphones. And thousands of people are already seeing the world differently with the help of the Internet-connected eyewear, Google Glass.

Even with the possibilities these devices offer today, gadget lovers can expect technology companies to stretch the wearable concept further this week in Las Vegas at the International CES event, the industry's annual trade show.

Several companies are expected to unveil wearable devices that are easier to use, extend battery life, and tap into the power of gestures, social networks and cloud computing.

The wearables wave is still in its early phases. Many of the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future —not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer.

These new gadgets are "like the first generation of the iPod," says Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group that has hosted the trade show since 1967. "It was bulky and it wasn't that pretty. Look what happened. It got slimmer. It got better."

Industry analysts' estimates for the growth of wearables are rosy. Research firm IHS says the global wearables market — which also includes health products like hearing aids and heart-rate monitors — could top $30 billion in 2018, up from nearly $10 billion at the end of 2013.

While some of the growth will come from an aging population that requires more health-related monitoring at home, devices like the Fitbit Force activity band — which tracks a wearer's steps, calories burned, sleeping patterns and progress toward fitness goals — are also expected to gain popularity as deskbound workers look for new ways to watch their waistlines.

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