Sensors are one of the smartwatch's unique advantages, which could be critical in the effort to attract customers to a new device category. Unlike the smartphone, which alleviated consumers of having to carry a cellphone, digital camera, and MP3 player simultaneously, smartwatches will need to rely on the device's distinctive features to build a market.
"We didn't come into wearable technology really operating under the thesis that consumers at large are sitting in their livings rooms waiting for wearable technology," Jef Holove, general manager at Basis, said.
Instead, customers will only adopt the devices if they do something for them that no other technology does, Holove added. That's part of the reason his company entered the market with a health and fitness device that provided in-depth data on the user, and only added notifications for messaging and phone calls to their smartphones afterward.
Steve Sinclair, vice president of product marketing at Motorola Mobility, said his company determined that design was a chief priority primarily because it was asking customers to wear a new device on their bodies.
"What we discovered was while you can design a product with all the great tech built into it, it wasn't going to gain the mass adoption like we see today with smartphones until we can develop a product that people want to wear all day long," Sinclar said.
That reality of the market presented an entirely new challenge creating a design that appeals to consumers at large, despite their individual and ephemeral fashion preferences.
The enterprise was suggested as a potential ground floor for the smartwatch, given that employees who travel often don't spend the bulk of their time staring at PC or smartphone screens anyway. Those with busy schedules and frequent meetings might gravitate toward a device that sits on their wrist and notifies them of important events at the right time.
Bonforte, however, insisted that the level of detail that sensor data can bring to applications will appeal to consumers on a more intimate level. He pointed to a "network effect" of market share growth, in which early adopters lead their close family and friends to buy the devices in order to connect with each other. Business adoption could follow this path as it did with smartphones, with passionate consumers leading them into the workplace, Bonforte said.
As it stands, the smartwatch market is currently limited to early adopters. But many expect 2015 to be a big year for the technology; Gartner predicted in September that smartwatches will account for 40% of consumer wrist-worn devices by 2016. The question isn't whether there is a market for smartwatches, but how the industry is going to find it.
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