DO SMART­WATCHES HAVE A FU­TURE?

New Straits Times - - Savvy - The chal­lenge smart­watches had from the start had to do with two key ar­eas. Firstly, there’ the is­sue of its small screen. As mo­bile phones got big­ger and big­ger, peo­ple got used to the idea of a large screen to in­ter­face with. But watch screens have seri

THE hype over smart­watches reached fever pitch three years ago, with plenty of in­dus­try and con­sumer buzz over the Peb­ble watch and the im­pend­ing re­lease of the Ap­ple Watch. Today, few peo­ple even bother to wear a watch and even fewer have a smart­watch. sys­tem for smart­watches, which Google li­cences out to var­i­ous watch brands.

There’s re­ally only one player in town that has made any kind of im­pact: Ap­ple. And even then, it’s ar­guable that the ap­peal of its smart­watch is not the fact that it’s a smart­watch but that it’s a watch made by Ap­ple, a brand with su­per de­vout fans.

Ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try re­port by re­search firm Canalys re­leased ear­lier this year, 49 per cent of smart­watches sold in 2016 were made by Ap­ple; 17 per cent by Fit­bit; and 15 per cent by Sam­sung. de­vice for the smart­phone.

Fit­bit has just re­leased its sec­ondquar­ter earn­ings re­port and sales of its watches are up 14 per cent se­quen­tially from the first quar­ter of 2017. But that’s not nec­es­sar­ily good news. The amount is ac­tu­ally down 40 per cent year-on-year from the sec­ond quar­ter of 2016. As a re­sult, the com­pany re­ported a net loss of US$58.2 mil­lion (RM249mil­lion). So, it’s not in good shape even though it’s num­ber two in the smart­watch space.

As men­tioned ear­lier, Fit­bit had bought smart­watch pi­o­neer, Peb­ble, and is util­is­ing that com­pany’s soft­ware to bol­ster the func­tion­al­ity of its smart­watch. So, as Ap­ple is nar­row­ing its fo­cus from an all-out app-cen­tric de­vice to some­thing de­signed for mes­sage no­ti­fi­ca­tion and fit­ness track­ing, Fit­bit is do­ing the ex­act op­po­site and try­ing to be more like what the Ap­ple Watch was.

Fit­bit CEO James Park told on­line tech pub­li­ca­tion,

that the com­pany’s up­com­ing smart­watch will have an app plat­form and that it will be rolling out a soft­ware devel­op­ment kit (SDK) along with a se­lect num­ber of apps from specific part­ners. The SDK will eventually be avail­able to all de­vel­op­ers.

Google is a smart­phone player too through its An­droid Wear op­er­at­ing sys­tem. While it makes its own smart­phone — called The Pixel — it’s not re­ally both­ered to make its own smart­watch. In­stead, it just li­cences out the op­er­at­ing sys­tem to var­i­ous es­tab­lished and non-es­tab­lished watch brands.

Fos­sil and Tag Heuer are two es­tab­lished brands that make watches with the An­droid Wear op­er­at­ing sys­tem but their sales numbers are so small they hardly make a blip on the smart­watch radar screen. Mean­while, some non­tra­di­tional watch brands like Mo­torola and Huawei seem to have lost in­ter­est in An­droid Wear. The fact that Google it­self is not mak­ing its own branded smart­watch speaks vol­umes.

In look­ing at all th­ese de­vel­op­ments, what can we ex­pect for the fu­ture of smart­watches? I don’t think smart­watches will ever be­come a big de­vice cat­e­gory on its own. Peo­ple just aren’t wear­ing watches like they used to.

It will most likely be a nice-to-have rather than must-have de­vice that some peo­ple will choose to wear — some for fash­ion pur­poses and some for fit­ness track­ing but not re­ally for telling the time be­cause you can get that just by glanc­ing at your phone.

Di­rect con­nec­tiv­ity to mo­bile net­works will prob­a­bly be­come a stan­dard fea­ture. Once Ap­ple in­tro­duces this, ev­ery other player will have to fol­low. As long as the smart­watch is seen as a de­vice that com­ple­ments your mo­bile phone, its sales will be lim­ited. Hav­ing di­rect con­nec­tiv­ity means that it’s pos­si­ble to re­ceive mes­sages and stream mu­sic while you’re ex­er­cis­ing, which may make the de­vice at­trac­tive for fit­ness-con­scious con­sumers be­cause it means you don’t have to bring your phone with you when you ex­er­cise.

Over time, the phrase “smart­watch” will dis­ap­pear and peo­ple will just call them watches — just like how no­body re­ally calls a smart­phone by that name any­more. We just call it a mo­bile phone or hand-phone be­cause all phones are smart­phones th­ese days. And that’s prob­a­bly what will hap­pen to smart­watches too al­though un­like the smart­phone, they will be far from ubiq­ui­tous.

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