From start-ups to the biggest market caps in the world, research and development in wearable technology continues to skyrocket, and opportunities abound in cutting-edge companies.
Samsung (SSNLF) , Under Armour(UA) - Get Report , Intel(INTC) - Get Report and Microsoft(MSFT) - Get Report -- to name a few -- are working to innovate high-tech apparel, in form factors such as wrist-worn and eyewear.
"Wrist-worn are the low-hanging fruit of wearables. If you look at it from an enterprise perspective, they've barely been adopted and there's a great chance there will be widespread adoption," said Jitesh Ubrani, a research analyst at IDC Technologies, a market intelligence group.
Ubrani is bullish on the growth of the industry yet warns against expecting any quick returns, as he says the market is "at least five to 10 years out" from boosting a company like Samsung.
"A lot of investors tend to look for short-term gains and that's not going to happen in the wearables market; wearables are a long-term play," Ubrani noted. "Outside of wrist-worn devices we are seeing a ramp up in clothing and eyewear."
The eyewear side of wearables depends on augmented reality's development, with devices like Microsoft's HoloLens or Intel's unannounced headset project. In December, a member of the Microsoft HoloLens team spoke to CNBC about the company's exploration into augmented reality as a means to transform everyday digital interaction. By preserving peripheral vision "so you can walk around very freely," noted the Microsoft spokesperson, augmented reality allows for a transformative approach to everything from creative graphic design to sitting in one's living room.
"Three to five years is realistic for augmented reality and at the point, where you can get the form factor small enough, then that's going to change the game for wearables," said Ross Sheingold, chief innovation officer at New York-based social media agency Laundry Service. "People typically don't adjust for how consumers exponentially adopt tech items."
Wearable technology will need an iPhone-like product to break out. Existing wearable technology represents a minuscule portion of the tech industry, yet Sheingold believes augmented reality is coming sooner than most investors and analysts expect.
"Augmented reality is becoming a part of everyone's lives, in things like Snapchat, without people even realizing it," Sheingold said.
Multiple hurdles must be overcome before widespread adoption occurs. Challenges such as battery life, data privacy concerns and the price point of the apparel face wearable tech developers. Senior Analyst Garrett Black at PitchBook Data, an M&A and venture capital data group, believes it will be closer to a decade before wearable technology breaks that glass ceiling.
"What wearables could really tap into is a crossbreed of the smartphone and the fitness wearable industry," Black said. "Where wearables get tricky is their price point compared to smartphones. [A wearable device] around the price of an iPhone could crack open the market and become a juggernaut."
Black calls the current wearable market a plateau, noting that upgrading the battery life and physiological data tracking capabilities would only be a first step for the industry to break out of its niche. He believes the only way corporations like Samsung and Apple(AAPL) - Get Report could grow "is by tapping new consumer markets."
Tech giants are not the only ones in the game. Even nontech companies such as Under Armour are investing in wearables. It represents more than $710 million of investment into the wearable tech market. Recent acquisitions -- MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo -- reveal a company seeking to change product demand from nice-to-have to need-to-have. The use case of wearable technology products depends on how universal the consumer's need is for those products.
"Apparel makers are savvy enough to know that if the cost keeps plummeting then they can tap into the consumer grid," Black said.
The additional, lingering issue is that of data privacy. Data privacy concerns continue, especially as the technology is adopted and physiological data collection increases. That privacy issue could be a hindrance to wearable technology being used as a communication method between consumers and their personal physicians. Still, consumer push-back may mean slower growth.
"If we're talking FDA-level data it could be up to a decade before widespread adoption," Black said.
The wearable industry will remain a niche so long as it is limited to smartphone-coupled devices which monitor heartbeats or track steps. The investment by tech and apparel companies in developing wearables belies a fervent push to develop that sliver into a much larger piece of the market. With estimates ranging from three years to a decade, wearable technology appears to be a question of not if but when.
Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, is long AAPL.