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The future of the smartwatch and its impact on smartphones

by Kate Harris , 23.09.2013

It feels like we are poised at the edge of the next big thing with wearable technology. We just need that device with the magic combination of features and a user-friendly interface for the market to surge forward.

The need seems to be there, products with specialist functionality, albeit diet or sport, are being used more widely. The category is being increasingly discussed in the media, barely a day goes by without another article on smartwatches or glasses.

Multiple manufacturers are launching products. Indeed analysts predict the market will be worth as much as £6.5bn by 2016, with as many as five million smartwatches sold in 2014.

It is understood that Apple, Microsoft and Google are all developing their own smartwatches. Sony recently launched its upgraded smartwatch and last week, Samsung announced the release of the Samsung Galaxy Gear.  Another recent addition to the market is the Toq smartwatch, manufactured by Qualcomm.

It is not only the tech giants who are involved in this industry, the Pebble smartwatch was a crowd funded phenomenon, raising a record-breaking £10m on Kickstart. The watch, which is reported to have sold over 100,000 units, has a 1.26 inch LCD screen and is compatible with both Android and iOS. Car manufacturer, Nissan has also recently announced the launch of its own smartwatch, which highlights how advances in technology blurs the boundaries between different industries. Nissan’s smartwatch, ‘Nismo’ will enable users to monitor their vehicle’s efficiency by measuring average speeds and fuel consumption.

But it still does not feel like the market has captured the much anticipated momentum.

So far anecdotal information suggests consumers are not yet convinced about smartwatches. In fact many do not know exactly what they are or what functions they can perform.  With further reluctance centering on concerns around battery life and comfort, and doubts over screen size.

A significant hurdle facing the smartwatch is its design. A watch, (for those who even wear them anymore) is ultimately a fashion accessory. Many will be averse to having a bulky device strapped to their arm no matter how functional it is.  It is always going to be a challenge for a first generation smartwatch to appeal to the mass market appeal.

In addition, the majority of smartwatches available serve as an extension of the smartphone, and are not capable of being a standalone device as they do not have their own SIM card. If this is the case the smartwatch risks becoming a hefty investment in what is essentially an accessory.

It remains to be seen if there are any functions which could perform better on a watch than on a phone. If this is the case, then eventually the smartphone could be replaced with the smart watch. Perhaps this is something that is concerning manufacturers who would like to see sales in addition to their smartphone portfolio, not a cannibalization of their smartphone sales. However, without some unique value add, the decision to purchase a smartwatch may be a difficult one for consumers to justify.

The benefits need to be real and very apparent to consumers before they make the investment.

Capturing this unique product offer and communicating its benefits are critical if an impact is going to be made.

Research

We have published a piece of research which looks at awareness among consumers of wearable technology, and the potential barriers to purchase. What will it take for wearable tech to become mass market?

Read the press release here.