Sales of so-called "smart watches" will surge from 1 million to 36 million in five years, according to a speculative new report from Juniper Research. But whether that defines "success" remains an open question.
Yet despite the frenzy of expectation around the rumored Samsung Gear and Apple "iWatch," even Juniper acknowledges smart watches "will only appeal to a niche demographic when compared to tablet and smartphone for example and hence the market potential will be comparatively limited." There are two reasons for that limitation.
One is that the utility and even usability of smart watches hinges on their wireless connections with companion smartphones or tablets. Another is that most of the apps touted for the smart watches appeal to a relatively small subset of consumers, such as heart rate monitors and calorie counters for fitness enthusiasts.
The full market study is available only for purchase, but Juniper posted a "white paper" that summarizes some of conclusions.
Juniper defines a smart watch as "a smart wearable appcessory that can be worn on a user's wrist, offering a range of smart functionalities in conjunction with an external platform, such as the smartphone or tablet." Those functions include displaying call, text and email alerts, accessing stock and weather information or "any fitness, sports or commerce applications such as heart rate monitoring, payments or ticketing."
One category of smart watch is what Juniper calls the "dashboard/console watch," which is simply a "dumb terminal" acting as a display for information and data from another companion device. One example is the CooKoo watch, with the CooKoo Connected App for iOS. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 LE wireless technology to connect with Bluetooth SMART READY devices including iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad mini, and 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation iPads.
The CooKoo displays incoming calls, missed calls, Facebook messages and posts, Twitter mentions, Google Voice SMS, email notification and more. Press a button and you can check-in to Facebook, remotely snap photos or record video, and control music played on your phone or tablet, and tag your location on the CooKoo Connected App map.
By contrast, according to Juniper, "multi-function" smart watches can do a bunch of things on their own, in addition to working with the phone or tablet. Juniper didn't give an example but the Pebble E-Paper Watch, a Kickstarter darling, is certainly one, offering "beautiful downloadable watchfaces and useful internet-connected apps," according to the website spiel. "Pebble connects to iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth, alerting you with a silent vibration to incoming calls, emails and messages." Another is the Italian-designed i'm Watch.
The smart watch booster site, SmartWatchNews, recently posted its list of the "Top 5 Smart Watches 2013." But the mini-reviews seem unintentionally to damn with faint praise. "We feel that, although the Pebble Smartwatch [ranked number 1] is your best choice right now, it is still an incomplete product," the post concludes. "We base this statement largely upon the complete lack of useful software." And probably the fact that you can only pre-order it.
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