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Smartwatches, even Apple's, still looking for mass market

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 14, 2016
Disappointing 2015 leads to disparate designs, including the 'shrink it and pink it' trend.

So far, there really isn't a solid use case for the smartwatch, he added. "There's no silver bullet yet that will bring smartwatches to the mass market," Llamas said. "People are even still trying to figure out whether a smartwatch should be round or square: the square is easier to use but the round looks more like a watch."

Another IDC analyst, Jitesh Ubrani, said IDC lowered its forecast for smartwatches in December mainly because of disappointing results for Apple Watch, although numbers were also slightly down for other makers.

2 apple watch 
The Apple Watch did not sell as well as expected but still is the market leader for smartwatches. Credit: Apple

"There's been a lack of demand because people don't really see the value in smartwatches," Ubrani said. "Most smartwatches, including Apple's, are merely notification centers and most people don't see a need for that."

Ubrani added, "Women aren't really interested in smartwatches and in my opinion that's not changing that fast." If a vendor raises the price by $150 to add gold or jewels, approaching a total price of $400 to $500, then many women are priced out of the market and will instead buy a Fitbit fitness tracker for $150, he said. IDC calls devices like the Fitbit "basic wearables" because they can't run third-party apps like a smartwatch can.

Even Samsung admitted at CES that smartwatch sales were lagging. The smartwatch market is "moving slower than a lot of people [expected] and certainly than we have," Eric McCarty, vice president of mobile product marketing for Samsung business products in the U.S., told Computerworld.

Samsung decided to use the Tizen OS in its latest models, with just 1,400 apps so far, but with the added ability to connect to Android smartphones, and, later this year, to iOS devices.

Business and industrial use cases emerge

Samsung is working with Red Hat to provide application modules for smartwatches that would provide work flow, time management and expense management, McCarty said.

"There's a bright future for wearables on the business side," said Ubrani, although he added that it isn't clear whether smartwatches will be the dominant wearable. It could be that smart glasses or another device gains steam in the wearable industry. "Biometrics could be used as a security feature where your watch or wearable recognizes who you are and possibly sets up your desktop as you get closer," he said.

Llamas said it will be possible in a few years for a smartwatch to automatically turn on a car when the driver is 100 yards away and then turn on the heater, if needed, at 50 yards. When within proximity of the car door, the smartwatch could then unlock it. Or, with biometric information, a smartwatch could know a user arriving at home could feel cold or warm, then use that information to tell a smart thermostat to adjust the temperature in the home accordingly.


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