Samsung's Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. Image by samsungtomorrow via Flickr.

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. Image by samsungtomorrow via Flickr.

Remember last year’s Consumer Electronics Show? Amidst the phablets, 4K TVs and bendable phones, one product stood out as a game changer: the humble, Kickstarter-funded Pebble. Simple in both concept and design, the device is essentially a smartphone for your wrist – minus the phone part.

This year Pebble is back, but it’s not alone. In fact, CES 2014 will likely be remembered as the year wearable tech blew up as a category – at least as far as hardware providers are concerned.

Despite concerns that the hype doesn’t match the demand, some journalists like Wired’s Bill Wasik think wearable tech could eventually become as widespread as smartphones, and that spells big opportunity for brands. In light of their dominance at CES 2014, here’s a rundown of the biggest players in the space so far.

Samsung’s unripe fruit

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch made a splash upon its release in September 2013. An extension of the Galaxy mobile device product line, it’s the market’s first bona fide smartwatch, allowing users to send and receive phone calls via the watch itself.

At launch Samsung claimed the gear worked with an estimated 70 applications, including the popular organization tool Evernote and fitness app Runkeeper. Sales so far have been modest, due in part to its single-day battery life and high cost.

But that hasn’t phased its creators, who are calling it a “small green tomato” that they hope will one day ripen into a profitable and high-value product. This should give brands ample leeway to start developing apps for the new device.

Pebble skips ahead

Pebble’s life began on Kickstarter in 2013 and it has since found distribution through traditional tech retailers Best Buy and Amazon, as well as its own website.

Its low-power black and white e-paper screen means the device can hold a charge for 5-7 days. The device is compatible with both Androids and iPhones and its software is open source, meaning anyone who can code can create watch faces.

Apple, Android, and Porsche branded watch faces are already common, though none are official.

Meanwhile brands like GoPro, Yelp, Mercedes, and Foursquare have already demoed their apps specifically for the device in Pebble’s CES 2014 app store announcement.

Forward-looking brands have a lot to gain by entering this space and capitalizing on the pre-existing demand for branded software.

The Pebble appstore enables brands to develop custom apps for the device.

The Pebble appstore enables brands to develop custom apps for the device.

Banding together for fitness

Sketches of a prototype Fitbit and Tory Burch necklace and bracelet design.  Image via Business Wire.

Sketches of a necklace and bracelet prototype, designed by Fitbit and Tory Burch. Image via Business Wire.

Fitness trackers were plentiful at this year’s CES: Garmin introduced its version and even printer company Epson got in on the action.

For now, the most popular trackers are Jawbone Up, Fitbit Force and Nike+ Fuelband SE. Each uses an accelerometer and smartphone app to measure your activity and has its own website for reporting that data.

But unlike Nike’s proprietary ecosystem, Jawbone and Fitbit accounts can connect with other well-known health-tracking sites like MyFitnessPal and Livestrong, which gives brands the opportunity to create compatible apps.

The space is wide open for innovative relationships. Take, for example, the recently announced partnership between luxury women’s clothing brand Tory Burch and Fitbit - one of the first attempts at solving the “ugly wearables” problem.

Both Nike and Adidas, meanwhile, have introduced GPS-enabled watches that help athletes closely monitor their workouts and track their activities – though their proprietary software means brands won’t be getting in on the action any time soon.

Watching out for 2014

Despite the excitement surrounding the launch of Samsung Galaxy Gear, the device has received tepid reviews. Many had hoped Apple would announce a smartwatch product in 2013, but now tech blogs like Gigaom and MacRumors are looking to 2014 as the year the elusive device might appear.

And then there’s Google. While most people in the tech world are paying close attention to Glass, Google’s purchase of the smartwatch maker WIMM may mean the search company also has its eyes on the wrist.

Regardless of whether Apple and Google end up competing in the space, the market is growing and will continue to do so into 2014. The ability to tie in with other devices and even websites may mean that marketers will soon be able to connect with their customers as often as they check the time.

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