CES 2015 has come and gone, and for another show, there was a huge emphasis on the wrist worn wearable, something which we’ve come to colloquially refer to as the “smartwatch“. So what exactly is theÂ state of smartwatches in 2015? Are we at the point where it’s a mainstream consumable and people know what they want? I’m not so convinced, so let’sÂ discuss.
The smartwatch industry as we know it is incredibly young – while the notion of smartwatches is not unfamiliar to us thanks to various TV shows and films, its growth has been incredibly slow till Google jumped on board and launched its own in-house operating system, Android Wear, for wearable platforms. Even then, Android Wear is still not the be all and end all of smartwatch operating systems with plenty of companies developing their own systems to suit their own hardware, so what we’ve ended up with is essentially a market saturated with a multitude of options. In many ways, there is something for everyone right now.
Smartphone veterans will remember there was a period like this around 2007-2008 whenÂ manufacturers were not only trying to catch up to the newly minted king of smartphones, the Apple iPhone, but were also tryingÂ their best to understand what operating system was the bestÂ way forward forÂ smartphones. Obviously since then, the playing field has thinned out a lot, with Android taking the lion’s share of market share from those companies that didn’t make it, thoughÂ whether the smartwatch industry follows a similar trend remains to be seen, but you can probably start to see some equivalence between then and now.
As it stands, I don’t think smartwatches are where they need to be at the moment and not necessarily from a hardware point of view – and don’t worry, I will qualify this vague statement. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Moto 360 just as much as the next person, and I very much enjoyed my time with my Pebble – however, the smartwatch industry as a whole has yet to really nail down what the consumer really wants, and if it has, it’s currently experimenting with things that seem in theÂ wrong direction.Â Battery life is a great example of this: 99% of the people that talk to me about smartwatches ask me about battery life, and all of them cringe when I tell them my Moto 360 has a battery life of about a day. That’s not to say they couldn’t live with it – I sure have – but it’s that disconnect between reality and perception that is so important to balance when new technologies like this start becoming mainstream.Â And when you start to move to other options that do have better battery life, some kind of compromise has been made to make it less impressive than it could have been.
And that’s really the crux of the smartwatch industry at the moment -Â in many people’s minds, smartwatches need to be a Dick Tracy-esque communication device that in part replicates the functions of our smartphones, and be able to last as long as a normal watch. Any less than that, and you have an imperfect smartwatch. The yardstick may not even be that high for some people, but the fact remains that there is always something not-quite good enough on each smartwatch on the market.
In reality, we may never reach this point given the limits of physics so at some point something needs to give, and in this case, I’d suggest it’s consumer perception that needs toÂ shift.
Do you remember the similarities I drew between the situation now and in 2007-2008? The Apple Watch, expected for release in March, like the original iPhone in 2007, could end up being the catalyst that changes the perception of consumers. While it may not necessarily be a technological breakthrough as the iPhone was (and some people will inevitablyÂ argueÂ that the iPhone actually wasn’t), the Apple Watch is going to take smartwatches mainstream, and with it popularize the idea that smartwatches as we have them now may be as good as we’re going to get. That isn’t to say that smartwatch technology isn’t going to progress, but people need to believe that what we have now is the best technology that exists right now, until next year’s model.
And I believe the Apple Watch is going to do that for us.
I know many of us don’t like to concede anything to Apple, so let me qualify this by saying that Android Wear alone might be ableÂ to shift consumer perception, given enough time. I would also mentioned that the Apple Watch may not even do all these things, leading to more of the same for a while longer. However,Â it should seem apparent now that theÂ state of smartwatches in 2015 is not dependent on hardware of software in particular, but the perception of the people that buy them.
But enough babbling from me: what do you think? Have I got it wrong? Has CES made me go soft on the Apple Watch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.