A WHOLE LOT OF HOT AIR
In 2014, they said that 2015 would be the year of smartwatches. Well, it is and yet not quite. 2015 saw the launch of many smartwatches, but none of them were truly revolutionary. This was also true for wearables, as none of the new wearables launched in 2015 really changed the status quo. For sure, they helped advanced the category and introduced some new nifty features, but they did not make wearables must-have kind of gadgets, like smartphones, for instance.
The year kicked off with lots of anticipation as everyone eagerly waited for Apple to launch its smartwatch - the Apple Watch. It was a massive undertaking for Apple, which saw them roll out a variety of models, in 38mm and 42mm sizes, and in various cases and straps. Apple, unlike other smartwatch makers before it, knew that a smartwatch needed to be more than just a gadget to attract people. They even went as far as to create solid gold versions of the Apple Watch, in 18k gold and rose gold cases, which cost as much as US$17,000. Mad? You think so, but then Apple went on to sell over four million of these watches, and in the process became the number one smartwatch brand. Right now, it is estimated that Apple has a 75-percent market share of the smartwatch market. To put this in perspective, Samsung, who is the number two brand, has a market share of an estimated 7.5 percent.
However, despite the initial excitement and enthusiasm, sales of the Apple Watch was said to have petered out in the past couple of months. Perhaps most tellingly, Apple CEO Tim Cook chose not to disclose just how many Apple Watches were sold during the report of the company’s last quarter’s financial results. Though widely regarded as the best smartwatch for iOS, the Apple Watch is not without its foibles. Its short battery life and sometimes slow performance made it unappealing to the larger public.
Samsung also took a crack by releasing its new Gear S2 smartwatch. It features suitably high specs, like a 1.2-inch circular AMOLED display with a pixel density count of 302 pixels per inch, but what’s really outstanding is how you interact with it. Instead of using the crown or swiping on the tiny watch face, users navigate the watch’s user interface using the bezel, but turning it left and right. It’s intuitive and feels right to use, and it’s amazing that no one has thought of it before. It’s a simple, but elegant innovation, and makes it much easier for wearers to browse through menus on their smartwatches, but it remains to be seen if other smartwatches will catch on to this.
Pebble, one of the pioneers of this category, also released its new Pebble Time watches this year. It features a new interface called Timeline that arranges your notifications and reminders in a chronological order. It was launched on Kickstarter and the response was overwhelmingly positive. It garnered pledges of over US$20 million in total. Yet despite its success, the Pebble Time remains a niche product for fans.
In summary, there were major new products in the smartwatch category, but none of them were groundbreaking in the way as, say, the original iPhone was. Nevertheless, this category of product remains exciting and it seems that we are all just waiting for the next truly big thing to arrive.
As for activity trackers, the line between them and smartwatches is blurring. The Microsoft Band, for example, is an activity tracker only in name. If you look at its features and what it can do, it rivals many and even exceeds some smartwatches, and poses the question if this is in fact the way forward for smartwatches? That they should give up the watch form factor and instead pursue a more discreet design. Elsewhere, it is pretty much the same old, same old, most activity trackers launched in 2015 continued to count steps and track sleep, and have no real innovation to their name.