A WHOLE LOT OF HOT AIR

HWM (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

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.

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