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The wearables boom is all about the wrist

Smartwatch and Phone

A boom in wearables?

Since the tablet market has decline somewhat in recent years, many people have predicted wearables to be the net big thing in the technology and mobile industry. With the Apple Watch about to go on sale today, all the signs are pointing to a growing market and increased interest among consumers.

Reflecting the growing significance of wearables, research firm IDC predicts that worldwide wearable shipments worldwide are expected to grow from 19.6 million units (last year) to 45.7 million in 2015 and reach a not insignificant 126.1 million units by 2019.

All this talk of a wearables boom might seem like jumping the gun somewhat however, when you look at the numbers in more detail. But according to IDC, the phenomenal growth will be propelled almost exclusively by smartwatches and (wrist-worn) fitness trackers, which are expected to make up more than 90% of wearable devices shipped this year.

Wearables Boom
SOURCE: Statista.com

 

Activity tracking is the most desired feature

At the moment, the Apple Watch has become the hottest smartwatch on everybody’s lips, and we have already witnessed a raft of devices from the likes of Motorola, LG, HTC and Samsung. Many of them are rectangular – just like the Apple Watch – while others (such as the Moto 360) are more akin to traditional round watches. But the question remains what to consumers want these devices to do?

The real benefits and utility of smartwatches seems like something that hasn’t really been figured out yet, but according to a survey by German company GfK, the most desired feature of a smartwatch is activity tracking – in other words, similar to fitness bands that track your steps, calories burned, heart rate and so on. Apple’s device also focuses on fitness, using a variety of in-built sensors and information from an iPhone, but it hasn’t really advanced beyond what other smartwatches can do yet. The rumours say that Apple had to drop various sensors, simply because they didn’t work reliably (hairy arms seem to be partly to blame!).

Consumers in the German survey agreed that activity tracking is the most important feature of any smartwatch, however there are regional differences – for example Chinese and South Korean consumers believe a smartwatch should handle phone calls, whilst respondents from Germany, the UK and the US seem to be keen that a smartwatch tells the time…

The chart below from Statista.com shows what features smartphone users from five markets believe are most important in a smartwatch.

Activity Tracking Smartwatch
SOURCE: Statista.com

 

Android Wear

Even though Apple’s smartwatch is now available for pre-order, it’s likely to kick-start a surge in interest in similar devices from other manufacturers, whom so far have failed to sell the devices in the millions, despite some strong early adopter support.

Google has its own Android Wear platform (which strangely, is rumoured to be compatible with iOS in the near future), but all those keen Android owners who are anticipating getting hold of a smartwatch in future may be in for a disappointment – because the percentage of Android phones that work with Android Gear is pitifully low. The chart below (admittedly, from last year) showed that Gear devices only worked on a quarter of Android phones. Even now with Android 5.0 Lollipop out in the wild, its adoption is still so low that the percentage is still woefully small.

Android Wear Compatibility
SOURCE: Statista.com

 

Granted, with time, more Android users will be able to purchase a compatible smart watch, but compare the situation with Apple, in which there are already huge numbers of users running the very latest version of iOS and recent iPhone models – that’s an enormous market opportunity right off the bat.

At this stage, we can’t really advocate one brand of smartwatch over another, but suffice to say that public interest has surged in recent months, and Apple Watch is certainly one of the most talked about and hyped gadgets at present.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see sales figures for Apple Watch broken out in the company’s quarterly earnings reports, as the device has been lumped in with the ‘other’ category that the Apple TV occupies. And despite the mixed reviews for the Apple Watch that have surfaced in the last few days, the Cupertino-based company is sure to sell millions of them and gradually iterate and refine the design over successive generations. That has got to be good news for the entire wearables market, as competition drives innovation and improvements in functionality and usability.

On a personal note, my 42mm Space Grey Apple Watch Sport has already been ordered, and I look forward to joining the wearables boom over the coming months.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

1 reply on “The wearables boom is all about the wrist”

Apart from activity tracking, what else CAN a smartwatch do? Little wonder this is the most desired feature!

I can see limited utility for some users in other areas: message notification, use of voice features like Siri, Google Now and Cortana, etc but overall its going to be a poorer experience compared to pulling out the smartphone we have all become accustomed to fiddling with every few minutes anyway!

For now, smartwatch purchases are based on vanity and the need to be seen as an early adopter. Have you seen the Emperor’s New Smartwatch? He’s the guy who bought the £10K gold iWatch…

I think a lot will sell initially, but once users become frustrated with frequent charge cycles, lack of durability, poor protection against water and the need to update their watch every two years or so (compared to a conventional watch that can be a lifetime partner) I think the shine will go off smartwatches.

I’m sure many reading this will bristle with indignation and cite a million and one ‘essential uses’ that only a smartphone can deliver, but lets face up to this:

In a world where smartphone manufacturers have been under huge pressure to deliver bigger screened devices at less cost, we are now being asked to spend hundreds of pounds on an additional device with a 1″ screen that delivers LESS functionality on the pretext that we can leave our beloved and perfectly useful smartphone in our pocket or bag!?!

Sorry, but I think that for now at least smart watches appeal to users who prefer one off the wrist compared to a deep and loving relationship with their ideal partner: their beautiful smartphone.

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