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 the 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’s discuss.

state of smartwatches in 2015The 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.

state of smartwatches in 2015Smartphone veterans will remember there was a period like this around 2007-2008 when manufacturers were not only trying to catch up to the newly minted king of smartphones, the Apple iPhone, but were also trying their best to understand what operating system was the best way forward for 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, though 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.

state of smartwatches in 2015As 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 the wrong direction. 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. 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.

state of smartwatches in 2015And that’s really the crux of the smartwatch industry at the moment - 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 to shift.

state of smartwatches in 2015Do 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 inevitably argue 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.

state of smartwatches in 2015I 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 able 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, it should seem apparent now that the 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.

  • James

    The smartwatch band seems like it will ultimately have more legs in the future.
    1) it’s easier to use by rolling your wrist out to expose the touchscreen.
    2) it can be designed to attach to virtually any watch. Watchophiles can have dozens of watches and would want to use them all in a smart manner.
    3) this allows for the amazing watch faces and watch capabilities that make watches fashion statements and the biggest reason people have watches today. After all, checking the time can be done on our smartphones.

  • sitandspin

    There is a lot more variance in the product innovations for smartwatches and wearables in general when compared to smartphones and tablets. Tablets, like phablets, are really just bigger smartphones.

    Too much variance is bad for consumers because the most common demand is super simplicity. Apple will hit that mark but will lag even further behind Android — and now Tizen, too. My personal consumer demands have been portability and integration — which is really about finding a balance between the two without exponentially increasing complexity.

    • rahulp

      The UI Apple has shown so far for their watch makes it seem like they missed the mark on simplicity. They’re trying to make a device that can do everything, rather than a device that can do a few things very well. The iPhone and iPod were both products that had success because early on they did a few things very well. The original iPhone didn’t have apps, it was basically a phone with a browser. The original iPod could only play music tracks. Those devices gradually became more complex.

      I think Android Wear smartly kept things simple. There’s not a whole lot I can do with my watch. Which does make it difficult to tell people what it does. My best answer is that it’s like having Google Now on my wrist, plus it shows me my phone notifications. But I think most people don’t really know about Google Now. I mostly use it for playback controls when I listen to podcasts, Google Now, dismissing notifications as soon as they come in and texting sometimes.

  • iv3r5on

    There isn’t any great functionality android wear can offer, but when you get used to to the little things it does you cant live without it. I have an LG G Watch and at first i didnt find anything usefull to do with it but now even if im not wearing it the first thing i do when my phone rings is look at my wrist…

  • http://www.martian-imperium.com/ Lokifish Marz

    12 years later and they are still trying to figure it out (smartwatches).

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