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If you sell 36 million Samsung or Apple smart watches, are you successful?

John Cox | Aug. 29, 2013
Juniper predicts big growth for smart watches like Samsung Gear and Apple 'iWatch' by 2018, but says it's still a 'niche.'

The i'm Watch was No. 3. "The problem with this smartwatch, like most of the contenders, is that the firmware and software just feel unfinished and incomplete," SmartWatchNews concluded. "However, this shortcoming can be easily remedied should the much need updates be released."

The Juniper study suggests that mobile payments may be one way to broaden the market for, and use of, smart watches. Shipments will be driven, Juniper predicts, "by a new multi-function segment capable of performing an array of additional functionalities such as tracking fitness and sports activities, payments or ticketing...."

Mobile payments and probably ticketing are being driven by advances in several areas, but one Juniper notes is near field communications or NFC. But NFC poses special challenges in something as small as a watch.

NFC operates at a very low frequency, around 13.56 MHZ, as this post at AntennaTheory.com explains. The antenna for such a chip actually acts more like an inductor: "If the magnetic fields from one inductor pass near another inductor, an induced current will exist within the second inductor. This is contactless energy transfer - exactly what NFC requires," according to the post.

The result is that NFC antennas take up a lot of space. "In general, the larger the inductance of the antenna can be made, the better it will perform," according to AntennaTheory. "Hence, NFC antennas are often simply loops of wire, occupying as much surface area as the device allows." To illustrate, here's a photo of the NFC antenna a wrapped coil of wire used in the Google Nexus smartphone by Samsung. Cleverly, it was mounted on the back of the battery, and covers nearly all of it, under a thin plastic back cover.

New materials are being used for antenna, such as very thin sheets of ferrite instead of copper wire. One example is the ferrite sheet antenna announced in February 2013 by Pulse Electronics' mobile division. "Pulse's thinner NFC antenna sends and receives clear signals even when installed in a handset in close proximity to the battery or metal housing," according to the press release. But the sheet is still 35 x 50mm in size, or 1.37 x 1.90 inches. That will make for a big watch.

There are even indications that the age group considered most receptive to smart watches the Millenials born from 1981 to 2000 actually isn't. A story at Phys.org carried the headline "Smart watches might not fit millennials' needs, expert says." 

"A lot of the millennial behavior is transitory," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future. "But as people age, they still are not wearing watches, and we'll begin to find out next month if that behavioral change is transformational." Samsung is expected to release its Gear smart watch in September.

 

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