It’s safe to say that the desktop computer, which has ruled the earth since around 1976, has lost significant ground in the last decade to smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The Netbook now looks like nothing more than a footnote in the history of technology and the tablet started out pretty weak before Apple put its spin on it with the iPad in 2010. (Early tablet computers saw limited success in the 1990s, including Apple’s Newton line.) So where do we go from here? The smartwatch is likely the answer.
I’ve written and talked a lot about the fact that wearable computing technology will demonstrate the most growth in the industry in the foreseeable future and a recent study points out that we are likely to see 45 million smartwatches sold per year by 2017. While that might seem like a lot of units, if you compare it to cellphones or tablets, it’s actually not a lot.
So while it seems like everyone is talking about wearable bands and smartwatches flooding the market with some pretty big companies on board, the numbers look respectable but fall short of other similar technology ventures. Is it the lower price point? Poor adoption rates? Or perhaps a misunderstanding of just exactly what these devices do and how they work.
It turns out that smartwatches aren’t really as smart as you might think. Current offerings from companies, such as Samsung and Sony, rely heavily on a smartphone to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s not really all that much of a surprise – it’s hard to put a lot of computing power into something light and durable that fits on your wrist and can take some pretty heavy abuse. Until they are able to do more, it would appear that adoption rates are a little slower than what we have seen with tablets. End users are also left a little confused trying to understand which products interact with each other, much in the same way they have trouble grasping how their laptop, cellphone, and tablet can all co-exist in a single environment.
Consumers are looking for more health-related functionality in their wearable computers as products, such as the Shine from Misfit Wearables and the UP from Jawbone, are providing information about our daily activities, including monitoring our sleep. Video-game juggernaut Nintendo is even jumping onto the technology and health bandwagon. Yet, while you would think that sales of traditional wristwatches would be dropping fast in turns out that this is actually not true, according to Market Watch.
While Samsung and Sony are not pushing the health-tracking benefits of their products (even though both contain compatible apps), it looks like Apple is going to be promoting the health angle of their iWatch, expected to hit the market later this year. According to this recent article, Apple has just hired a biometric expert. It is estimated over 200 people are building this new product that we officially know very little about.
Sales of current smartwatches are certainly not on fire (approximately 8 million are expected to sell this year), but it’s quite possible that with Apple on board, bringing its “cool”, “hip” and “chic” feel to this growing segment, the numbers could change dramatically. The market size is expected to grow from around $3 billion today to over $50 billion in just five years.
I have no doubt that wearable technology is a market to keep a close eye on. I’m not completely convinced that the smartwatch will take over the world by storm. But I think it will be the leader into a new, unexplored camp that just wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you want to know what the future holds for technology, just watch the science fiction from a few decades ago. Most of the communication we saw in Star Trek is now coming true. If we could just get working on those spaceships and warp drive, I’ll be a lot happier.