Smartwatches Had No Year, Again

Smartwatches Had No Year, Again

Android Wear could have been the hit we had all waited for, the gadget that would have made us tech-born enthusiasts finally achieve our childhood dreams of wrist computers you can give orders to, ala 2001: A Space Odyssey minus the murderous bits. Google’s initial promises of a great smart-watch had bloggers, journalists, and Android fans spilling praises of digital ink all over the web, and with devices like the Moto 360 teasing us with not just power and utility but also elegance, many of us had our minds set on Google finally bringing the smartwatch revolution we had all been waiting for…

But then consumers started getting their hands on the hardware. The initial offerings, the Gear Live and G Watch, left a lot to be desired. I would know because I am an early adopter of the former, and after numerous updates, it still isn’t good enough. There’s many problems with Android Wear right now, the main one being battery life. I simply can’t be bothered to charge it some days, even if it does bring utility to my daily life. Details aside, we had talked about Android Wear and its slow adoption extensively in the past, and in that feature we took a look at its history – and that of smartwatches as a whole. The latest news shows quite a sad conclusion to 2014’s developments.

Smartwatches were surrounded with excitement ever since we had functional assistants that weren’t just beepers on our wrists, with options such as the remarkable Pebble showing up suddenly and unexpectedly. The “Year of Smartwatches” has been a prophecy in the tech world for years now. Since 2013 we’ve been hearing that: this year could finally be the one where smartwatches boomed. What I find most striking, however, is that they didn’t have much of a solid reason to believe that, and not much information about the future to go off of. Think of it this way: we’ve got Android Wear, Google’s offering no less, and we have the planned incursion of Apple readying consumers for smartwatches too. We have Samsung’s Tizen offering on interesting form factors like their Gear S smartwatch, and their upcoming Orbis. Which of these offerings or suggestions did we have in 2013, let alone 2012? In those days, we had the rather poor Galaxy Gear, the great Pebble that sadly wasn’t mass-friendly, and the older Sony smartwatches which were even more niche.

Even if the “Year of Smartwatches” was a much-repeated and barely-questioned omen, 2014 marked a year where we could had seen it become true. Google’s Wear was unlike other offerings, as it brought Google Now and all the powerful services surrounding it to our wrists. Google had the intention of removing the need to check your phone every 5 minutes, and on this front they succeeded – you don’t know how much you are used to a smartwatch until you go out without it and look at your naked wrist with each pocket vibration. But this was not the selling point that a mass market needs, especially with consumers that are used to trendy marketing lies rather than useful or practical utilities.

Last year had analysts speculating all sorts of figures as to what the smartwatch market would see in regards to yearly figures. NextMarket Insights predicted the market would hit 15 million devices, while others settled for conservative numbers, like Canalys‘ estimate of 2014’s shipments being 5 million, a 900% increase over what was forecasted in 2013. While this figure was based on the promise of new entries into the game by new competitors, Canalys and others in charge of logistics and predictions most likely didn’t know the details surrounding Android Wear or the Apple Smartwatch announcement.

Now Canalys has released the latest figures for 2014, that show a striking conclusion to the touted revolution: their conservative estimate was still too high of an expectation, as the total smartwatch and smartband sales hovered at around 4.6 million. Moreover, Android Wear only accounted for about 720,000 units of that figure, which sits at 15.6% of the total amount. This raised my attention, because as far as smartwatches go, what else is there…? Sure, you’ve got the Pebble; but its unconventional looks and unappealing software still makes it more of a niche device than say, the Moto 360 – which was at the top of the Wear device list when it came to sales. Yet the Pebble shipped 1 million devices since its 2013 launch! Samsung’s Gear offerings are very popular, and Samsung offered 6 wearable devices in 2014, yet their share was also a little disappointing according to Canalys, who commented that “[Samsung] has struggled to keep consumers engaged and must work hard to attract developers“. Moreover, Xiaomi had a successful year in the wrist industry with a million units of their Mi Band, which also saw over 100 thousand sales in just one day.

These quoted figures don’t even include the other unpopular smartwatches and non-watch wearables (excluding the Mi Band). In the big scale of things, not only were wearables not as hot as they were predicted to be (again), but Android Wear also failed to grab a significant piece of the pie with its offerings. Wear has a lot of potential, but things like battery life and a lack of distinction hold it back from giving off the appeal we wish it had. When it comes to the customization and appearance of it, we’ve also discussed how the technical limitations hold it back from its potential as a limitless self-expression accessory. Then there’s the price that makes these watches unjustifiable for many as it is still a product in diapers.

So now it is confirmed that we didn’t quite get the revolution we hoped for, and that Wear didn’t have a monstrous impact. Future hardware competitors or manufacturers, or software updates could make this better for all of us and bring Google’s wrist OS to where it should have been. As of now, I can’t help but think that the hype was all just a marketing trick that blew up, and in the end failed to meet the expectations it created. Maybe the Apple Watch will make consumers aware of this technology, or entice them to get into it. And with the next batch of smartwatches, we might see new things we hadn’t expected before. Asus hinted at a possible week-long battery life smartwatch in production, and even if that doesn’t run Wear, it would shake up the market if it does make it out. Smartwatches are here to stay, but now those that were fooled twice know better… so they jumped onto other things like VR. Will I be writing a similar article on that, 2 years from now? Let’s hope the hype and predictions are contained a little more from now on. I personally know that I will forever be wary of these claims, and I hope that maybe one day the tech world will see hype in “The Year of Skepticism” .

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