Are Smartwatches Dead?
Smartwatch technology has been hotly anticipated since the heyday of the Dick Tracy comic strip. Really, what could be better than wearing a slick two-way communication device on your wrist? (Answer: not much.) In the past few years, it’s become a reality, as some tech companies like Motorola, Samsung, and Pebble were out of the gate early on with the first consumer smartwatches. When Apple released its highly awaited Apple Watch in April of 2015, it was game on for smartwatches. Now, after the hype has cooled down a bit, we have to step back, reevaluate, and ask ourselves a big question: are smartwatches dead?
Are Smartwatches Dead?
So now, well over a year after the debut of the Apple Watch, you might expect the smartwatch to be the hottest piece of tech out there. However, you’d be wrong. While there was certainly a blip on the calendar when smartwatches really hot, lately, the market has been slow.
According to the International Data Corporation, or IDC, smartwatch sales declined a whopping 32% worldwide in the second quarter of 2016; sales of the Apple Watch alone were down over 50% from the previous year.
Numbers Don’t Lie
It’s hard to argue with the IDC’s statistics. Even though a downward trend doesn’t necessarily mean the outright death of an entire sector (the late 1990s rebound of the once-floundering Apple is glowing proof of that statement), the numbers on smartwatch sales aren’t exactly encouraging. Plus, while the reviews of new smartwatches haven’t been all that bad, they haven’t been all that great either.
Recently, CNET gave the new Pebble 2 a 3.5 star (out of 5) review, and last month, it gave the shiny new Apple Watch 2 a 4 star review. Sure, these are decent reviews, but given the cost of some of these products, consumers are probably looking for a solid five star rating before they drop even 100 quid on a smartwatch.
And, to pull in some anecdotal evidence, you simply don’t see smartwatches on a lot of arms, even now.
They’re still very much a novelty; those among us who don’t own one are still infinitely curious and full of questions when they encounter a smartwatch on the wrist of a friend or acquaintance.
It’s a novelty, much like the iPhone was in 2007.
Clearly, from the point of view of smartwatch manufacturers, things in smartwatch land aren’t moving in the right direction, and it’s a little concerning.
New Models on the Horizon
Despite the somewhat discouraging numbers, there are some new smartwatches available and some new ones in the hopper that may inject some life into the smartwatch market.
For example, the new Apple Watch 2 is a bumped up version of its former self, with increased water resistance and an all-important built-in GPS chip. The recently upgraded Pebble 2 and the Pebble 2 SE are currently available, and the Pebble Time 2 should start shipping in January.
Toward the end of 2016, Samsung and Motorola will be releasing the latest iterations of their popular smartwatches (the Gear S3 and Moto 360, respectively).
China’s Xiaomi, a manufacturer of low cost wearables, will be releasing its own smartwatch later this year. And perhaps most importantly, Google has two smartwatches in the works; the Angelfish and the Swordfish are both expected in early 2017.
With other companies like Huawei, Blocks, HTC, Nixon, Fossil, and more working on their own smartwatches, the takeaway here is that the smartwatch market may be slowing down, but it’s far from dead.
A Niche Product
Smartwatch owners generally do love their devices, but unlike smartphones, smartwatches may not be for everyone. Despite its relatively small screen, the smartphone is still a larger and more versatile device than anything you might strap around your wrist.
When you’re done using your smartphone, you can put it away — something you can’t really do with a smartwatch because it’s always on you. Plus, smartwatches are large pieces of hardware, and many consumers simply don’t feel comfortable wearing such a heavy, damage-prone device.
Perhaps the explosive growth of the smartphone market in the past five or six years has conditioned us to expect that every type of device will grow just as fast.
Obviously, we’ve seen that not every tech device is going to sell as well and have as significant of an impact on our culture as the smartphone has. Smartphones are seen as a necessity by the majority of consumers, while a high number of consumers still see smartwatches as a luxury.
Still, the IDC anticipates what it calls “modest growth” of smartwatches through the rest of 2016. Other types of wearables are also doing quite well: fitness trackers have a significant hold on the market, with manufacturers like Fitbit and Xiaomi enjoying huge market shares.
What’s more, wearables saw a worldwide growth of more than 65% in the first quarter of 2016.
Do you have a smartwatch? Are you planning to buy one this year? Or do you think smartwatches are dead? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
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