At the start of this year I noted the return of the watch to technology innovation. The renewed interest in watches is largely thanks to Pebble, a crowdfunded smart watch that got a lot of attention at CES this year. It’s looking increasingly likely that watches are going to be a big driver in the rapidly growing wearable computing devices market.
According to research firm ABIresearch, there will be 485 million wearable computing devices shipped annually by 2018. The report doesn’t state the number of shipped devices currently, but it claims that an “estimated 61% of the wearable technologies market is attributed to sport/activity trackers in 2013.” When you consider that Nike+, Fitbit and Jawbone are the current leaders in the wearable computing market, that makes sense.
The report goes on to state that “smartphone compatible watches are beginning to emerge, and rumors have materialized regarding Apple releasing a smart watch some time this year. Furthermore, we will see the arrival of the much anticipated, smart glasses later this year.”
I’m less bullish on “smart glasses,” at least for the consumer health market. Even though Google Glass is undoubtedly a clever concept and may eventually become a hot consumer item, most people won’t wear such glasses all the time. They’ll wear them like they wear sunglasses, an hour or so a day. Whereas a smart watch is something that people will want to wear all day, every day. As long as it’s a natural fit, useful and stylish – the three qualities I’m looking for in a health tracking device.
Earlier this week I read a Bloomberg report stating that, in addition to Apple, Samsung is also developing a smart watch. That’s not surprising, since Samsung will aggressively copy everything that Apple does in the Internet devices market. It’s been a winning strategy for Samsung and is hurting Apple – just look at the latter’s stock price currently.
More importantly, the smart watch, especially if mass produced by Apple, Samsung and other big consumer computing companies, will be a huge challenge to the current crop of health tracking device makers – Nike, Fitbit, Jawbone, BodyMedia, Withings and others. Like all of those current wearable devices, the smart watch will be worn all day by most users. Plus the smart watch won’t just tell time and have Web functionality, it will be a pedometer and so will directly compete with Fitbit, Nike+ et al. As an Apple source told Bloomberg:
“It [an Apple smart watch] would also house a pedometer for counting steps and sensors for monitoring health-related data, such as heart rates, this person said.”
Of course, there’s nothing stopping Fitbit, Nike and others from creating a smart watch too. Nike already has a smart watch, although it’s focused on the sports market – runners in particular. They’d need to come up with a more consumer-friendly watch, if they want to compete with Apple and Samsung (which they may not even want to do; they are a sports company after all).
Regardless of how all this shakes out, I’m looking forward to the Pebble, Apple and Samsung smart watches coming onto the market. I’ll certainly be buying one, although I’ll keep my Fitbit too!