Smartwatches are the wearable technologies category that will see a huge growth in the next years. Even though they haven‘t hit the mainstream market yet, improved products and services will soon lead to increased acceptance by customers. This might lead to up to 80 Million units sold in 2016 according to a study by Next Market Insights, as opposed to the 5 Million expected to be sold this year.
The idea of enhanced watch capabilities is nothing new. In the 80ies companies like Casio and Seiko produced watches with built-in databases, even a model with an external keyboard was available. The first true smartwatch with built-in Linux, Bluetooth, fingerprint reader, and accelerometer was developed by IBM in 2000, but it never made it to the market. Even software giant Microsoft tried to empower companies like Fossil and Suunto to build smartwatches based on it‘s Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), but this also never really took off. There are several reasons why industry experts are confident that now the time for this new device category has come.
First of all smartphones have changed how people use software and computing has become much more personal. Therefore it‘s going to be just a small step for consumers to add smartwatches to their collection of connected devices, once the industry and the users have figured out what this new platform might be used for. On the other hand activity trackers like the Nike FuelBand have become quite popular over the last couple of years, thus shaping the path for smarter products to be worn on the wrist. Once the features provided by smart watches play a more substantial role e.g. for health monitoring or to control smart homes and connected environments, these new devices might become so intriguing that the mass market will eventually adopt them.
For early adopters there is already a wide range of smartwatches on the market some of which are only slightly enhanced watches whereas others try to implement lots of technologies and services. Comparing all the solutions, we have seen wide differences between the currently available and soon to be released devices. Companies like Cooko or Martian launched watches with analog clock faces and just added some LED indicators for incoming messages or a micro display for displaying one line of text. This allows for a relatively long battery life but also limits the range of features, making these watches less smart than other approaches.
In contrast to this rather simple approach Sony has already released the second generation of its „SmartWatch“. The device features a 1.6” screen with a resolution of 220×176 pixels and displays incoming calls, mails, alerts and much more. Sony‘s SmartWatch 2 is water resistant, is compatible with smartphones with Android 4.0 or higher, and features standard replacement wristbands. Opening up the watch for alternative firmware from developers and trying to build an ecosystem with apps and services for it, might be the right attempt from Sony to make sure its platform gains momentum.
Another first mover in the smartwatch race is Pebble. Pebble was a big hit on crowd funding platform Kickstarter, raising more than 10 Million US Dollar from consumers worldwide. With its e-ink display it runs up to a whole week on one battery charge and allows to constantly displaying the time with customizable watch faces. In comparison, the LCD based watches from Pebbles competitors only tell the time by activating their displays with the press of a button. Being one of the few advanced smart watches that are fully compatible with android and iOS, and the recent improvement in smartphone integration based on Bluetooth 4.0 are some of the benefits Pebble offers its customers.
With the Galaxy Gear, Samsung introduced a smartwatch exceeding the technological features of most competitors. Integrated into the wristband is a 1.9 megapixel camera, allowing the user to take pictures and videos that can then be watched on Samsung‘s smartphones. A speakerphone in the closing of the wristband also allows for phone calls made directly from the watch. Since the Galaxy Gear needs a smartphone for the mobile network, calls and all other features relying on internet work only when being paired with a smartphone. Being only compatible with selected Samsung smartphones limits the Gear’s customer base and despite the successful market campaign many reviews haven’t been too impressed.
The Neptune Pine goes one step further. With its integrated mobile connection it can fully replace the smartphone. It‘s gigantic 2.4“ screen might not be the right fit for small wrists but make it much more capable than most of the alternatives to date. Being compatible with android apps from Google Play Store solves a huge problem the competitors have, building an ecosystem with exciting software applications. Since the Pine hasn’t been released yet, it still has to prove whether its approach works well and people are willing to wear a device that is smart albeit very large on their wrist.
At Wearable Technologies we are excited to see which companies will convince most customers and, at the same time, can build a community of app developers that boost the value of their watches. At our Wearable Technologies Conference Europe we will continue this debate in our panel “Smart Watches and Wristbands“ with many of the leading companies in this area. If you haven’t gotten a ticket yet, make sure to register yourself while supply lasts.