min read

Is the time right for the smartwatch?

by Anselme Laubier , 16.09.2014

With the headline news at IFA 2014 that Apple will be joining the likes of Samsung, Huawei and Sony in launching a smartwatch, our new global study* offers a unique insight into consumers’ views on wearable technology in China, Germany, South Korea, the UK and the US. What expectations do smartphone owners have for this hot new segment?


Of 5,000 respondents, 29% considered ‘activity tracking’ as a key functionality. The second-highest listed functionality ‘passing phone calls’ saw significantly less support, with 13% of respondents considering it the most important function when deciding to purchase a smartwatch. Meanwhile, for other smartwatch functionalities promoted by manufacturers, none stood out to a majority of consumers:

-       11% of respondents selected ‘time telling’,

-       10% ‘basic apps’,

-       10% ‘navigation system’,

-       9% ‘notification center replacement’, and

-       7% ‘basic web search’.

Navigational control

For smartwatch navigational control, manufacturers at IFA announced interfaces partly or fully based on touch screens. This is in line with consumers’ expectations, with 67% of respondents preferring to control their smartwatch with a touch screen. If some commands are to be done using voice control then arguably some consumer education is required, with only 24% of respondents stating a preference of controlling their smartwatch in an audio-led manner.

Companion device

Regarding the positioning of some smartwatches as companion devices to smartphones, 90% of respondents expect their smartwatches and smartphones to run on similar software. On the other end, a majority of 56% expect smartwatches to include a SIM card – that is, to operate independently of their smartphone. Expectations, however, vary from one country to another, with 84% of Chinese respondents expecting a SIM card to be included, while only 46% of those in the UK expecting the same.

Device interaction

As the Internet of Things becomes a reality, the potential to control different devices using a smartwatch seems to give it a sense of purpose amongst some respondents. 49% of respondents have shown very high interest (from 8 to 10 and 0-10 scale) for smart home control with a smartwatch. Wireless payment met a bit less enthusiasm, but still gathers a solid 35% of respondents having high interest for this feature.


Consumers see smartwatches unsurprisingly being part of the territory of major technology players, with 65% of respondents saying they would consider major tech brands first when looking to purchase a smartwatch. Sportswear brands rank second, with 18% of respondents considering them the go-to retailer, perhaps a reflection of the many new activity and fitness trackers that have recently been introduced to the marketplace.

So what about the time?

Returning to the initial question, while the smartwatch concept generates some consensus amongst consumers, in general the picture that is painted is one of slight apprehension. Should the smartwatch come with a companion device?; what is the most important function?; – these questions are key yet remain without strong consumer consensus. With sales of these devices still only modest at most and yet significant buzz surrounding this topic, evidently now is a critical time for brands to be educating consumers on how they can use smartwatches and how they can make their lives easier.

Nevertheless, probably the most exciting aspect of time on the horizon is that of Christmas – the wearables market in December 2014 and in the new year (Apple’s watch is due to launch in early 2015) is likely to be an exciting testing ground for consumers as they begin to head to the shelves to actually experience for themselves whether all the fuss is justifiable.

*Study conducted in August 2014 interviewing online 5000 smartphone owners in China, Germany, South Korea, the UK and the US. Download the full report here.

Extended study

We’ve planned a multi-client research study exploring how to raise consumer interest in smartwatches. Learn more about the project and how you can take part.

Anselme Laubier is Account Manager at GfK’s Media & Technology. He can be reached at anselme.laubier@gfk.com.