Smartwatch. It's the new buzzword where tech companies are involved, with almost everyone jumping on the bandwagon trying to offer a different experience. And since mobile sales are experiencing a slowdown in growth, the smart watch segment has moved from being a niche market with small, specialized players (FitBit, Pebble etc.) to being somewhat more mainstream. So much so, that Business Insider is forecasting that the smart watch market will be worth over $9.2 billion in sales by the year 2018 (as seen in the graphic below). That figure was based on the average price of a smart watch being around $100. And that means the smart watch market is going to hot up in 2014, with all the tech giants trying to get a piece of the rather substantial pie.
In some respects, the smart watch has much the same purpose that a canary would for the miners in olden days. Except in this case, instead of testing for methane, the smart watch is testing to see whether the general public will both accept, and more importantly, purchase the wearable devices. We've all read about the various incidents with Google Glass, from wearer's being thrown out of cinemas or bars, banned from wearing them whilst driving and even being assaulted for having been audacious enough to wear them out in public. Yes, the incidents involved a certain type of Luddite, unable to handle the future being thrust upon them, but it's going to keep on happening for a while, because some people are scared of new-fangled devices. And this brings me back to my previous theory that the smart watch is the 'canary' for devices such as Google Glass. It's a baby-step, and one which more people will accept. The smart watch is going to bring the wearable device to mass market status. Your kids are going ask for them at Christmas, to synchronise with their tablets and smart phones. And when the kids start asking for them, that's when you know something is mainstream. Also, wearing a watch with an internet connection isn't quite as weird or in your face that wearing Google Glass is, at the moment.
So why is this such an important market for electronics manufacturers? Well, for one thing, money. The tech manufacturers are always looking for the 'Next Big Thing'. For another, the humble watch is one of the few mass-market devices that hasn't really seen a vast improvement in the modern era. Yes, there have been watches with built-in calculators, the ability to charge themselves with the movement of your arm, but those were generally one-trick-ponies. Sony and Samsung have both had some degree of success with their Gear and Smartwatch offerings in the past year, without hitting the big-time. And with around 55% of the global population still wearing a watch, it's a huge market to capitalise on. That's 55% of over 7.159 billion people wearing some kind of watch. You can understand why everyone wants a piece of it. It's believed that around 5% of smartphones will be paired with smart watches in some way, be it via Bluetooth or NFC.
You may be asking what this means for activity trackers such as FitBit's Flex or JawBones Up devices. Apart from the niche devices, the activity and smart watch segments will merge, with smart watches being able to perform tasks such as tracking steps and sleep patterns, and the activity devices becoming smarter, being able to tell the time among other abilities. The average consumer who purchases a wearable device, will probably buy just the one smart watch which is capable of fulfilling most of their needs, rather than a different device for different purposes.
With Google (and partners) bringing their Android Wear devices, Samsung and Sony offering new iterations of their wearable devices, Apple still toying with their 'new product categories', and Microsoft almost certainly only joining the party after the pie has been shared out, is 2014 the year that the smart watch goes mainstream? And what are your plans? Do you already own a smart watch? Or, like me, are you waiting to see what Android Wear brings to the party? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at our Google Plus page.