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Failure to launch: a few reasons why smartwatches haven't caught on
My first encounter with a smartwatch was about 25 years ago. It was 1990 and I was in a crowded movie theater watching the movie Dick Tracy with my family. Set in the 1930s, the film’s title character, portrayed by Warren Beatty, was a no-nonsense detective who fought crime while sporting a high-tech wristwatch equipped with a two-way radio. As an impressionable kid with a budding love for technology, it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.
Fast-forward to the present, where Hollywood’s movie magic is pretty much a reality. Smartwatches are now widely available to consumers, but despite my fascination with futuristic timepieces as a child, I’ve yet to purchase one. And I’m definitely not alone. Recently, smartwatch maker Pebble announced that it had sold over 1 million units, which is definitely an impressive feat, however this milestone is over the course of two years. When you compare this figure to the millions of smartphones sold each month, it’s almost laughable.
My first encounter with a smartwatch was about 25 years ago. It was 1990 and I was in a crowded movie theater watching the movie Dick Tracy with my family.
Arguably the most recognizable smartwatch producer on the planet, Pebble’s lackluster start hasn’t stopped other companies from jumping on the wearable bandwagon. Tech superpowers like Samsung, LG, Sony and Motorola have been cranking out smartwatches faster than they can sell them. So why aren’t consumers biting? Here’s my take.
Smartwatches Aren’t Really a Standalone Product
Unlike Dick Tracy’s telephone-esque timepiece, the majority of smartwatches are not capable of placing voice calls on their own. In fact, most of them need to be tethered to an Internet-connected smartphone in order to operate at full capacity. This may not be a complete deal breaker for everyone, however some people aren’t too keen on this setup.
Add in the fact that most smartwatches are currently priced from $200 to $300, and this watered down extension of a smartphone experience really starts to become a tough sell.
I mean think about it. Have we as people really gotten so lazy that our smartphones need a butler? In a sense that’s what modern smartwatches are. Fans of these luxury items will argue otherwise and say they’re about convenience. “I get so many emails and text messages!” But is pulling your phone out of your pocket really that much of a chore?
Have we as people really gotten so lazy that our smartphones need a butler?
This is my biggest gripe about smartwatches as a whole. They don’t really bring much to the table. Yes, they’re cool in theory and maybe even in demonstration, but what can you really do with one that can’t be done better with a smartphone? People most likely recognize this and simply want more.
Not that fashionable
Another thing stifling the smartwatch’s growth is its appearance. If you’re looking for an attractive intelligent timepiece your choices are very limited. Most of these devices are very masculine in appearance, so if you’re a lady seeking something softer, things are even worse. Is it just me or do most smartwatches look like exercise gear? I’d say the Moto 360, LG G Watch R and Pebble Steel are the best looking hardware from the lot, but they still lack the crossover appeal that a traditional watch has to offer.
Smartwatches aren’t necessarily on the brink of extinction, but they’ll need to evolve in order to endure the years ahead. One of the changes I’d like to see going forward are more self-sufficient devices that don’t require a smartphone for complete use. Yes, there are already products on the market like the Samsung Gear S, but I’m talking about devices with advanced network capabilities (mainly LTE) and possibly even the ability to place voice calls via a Bluetooth headset. While this sounds a bit silly, it may be a viable option for people who like to travel light.
Additionally, the smartwatch market needs watches that look more like… watches. The LG G Watch R is my personal favorite design so far, but some people may prefer something with more of a sleek build.
Smartwatches aren’t necessarily on the brink of extinction, but they’ll need to evolve in order to endure the years ahead.
Another challenge holding smartwatches back is how much they cost. Most devices are priced on a par with high-end on-contract smartphones, but they only offer a fraction of the functionality. The majority of casual consumers are just starting to wrap their heads around the concept of paying a few hundred bucks for a powerful smartphone or tablet. If these wearables are to catch on with the masses, manufacturers will need to find a sweet spot. I’d say that $100 to $150 is a reasonable price range. Last year, Pebble announced permanent price cuts for its product line, making its entry-level watch only $100. Hopefully some of the Kickstarter-created company’s competitors will soon follow suit.
Another possible springboard for smartwaches would be a device made by Google. The company already has a history of producing its own flagship hardware, so a Nexus watch would be an ideal showpiece to market Android Wear’s capabilities. While some people are gearing up for Apple’s first foray into the world of smartwatches, a timepiece directly from Mountain View almost seems imminent.
Modern smartwatches are still in their early days. Software platforms like Android Wear, Pebble OS and Tizen will only get better with time, but early adopters are going to encounter growing pains along the way. This may not discourage hardcore tech fans seeking the next big thing, however average consumers will definitely be a bit more hesitant to part with their hard-earned cash.
In their present form, smartwatches are still unpolished, unproven and ultimately unnecessary. Toss in the fact that most devices are poorly marketed and it becomes pretty clear why they’re not flying off the shelves. And until hardware smartwatch producers can come up with a clear-cut reason why these devices are actually needed, 1 million units sold every two years might be a slow death knell ringing loud and clearly.
What do you think, consider smartwatches a useful luxury at this point, or a niche item not worthy of your hard-earned dollars? Share your thoughts in the comments.