A closer look at the potential impact of Apple’s iWatch on the smartwatch market

A closer look at the potential impact of Apple’s iWatch on the smartwatch market

I have been a big fan of gadget watches ever since I bought my first calculator watch in the mid-1980s. Although I do like stylish watches, I am just geeky enough to wear those that often look odd because I value functionality above fashion. That alone should tell you that I don’t read GQ and have been told my clothing style is “frumpy” geek.

Interestingly, there have been smartwatches around since 1982, one of which sits in the custom, museum-quality exhibit area I have in my office. It houses dozens of tech gadgets I have tested or worked on over the last 30 years – but every once in a while a tech executive sends me something from their own collection or castaway pile.

This happened when a high-level executive from Seiko visited me about 15 years ago. About a month later, I got a package from Japan, and in it was the Seiko UC 2000 smartwatch that was created in 1984. Although Seiko had some primitive smartwatches as early as 1982, the UC 2000 was the first to include calculator/data functions.

Over the years there have been a lot of similar devices, but they have all been aimed at ultra-geeks, not the average consumer like today’s crop of smartwatches. Of course, the real impetus for this new generation of smartwatches is the link to a smartphone and the ability to serve as an extended screen for that device. While some smartwatches can handle apps embedded in the watch itself, most gain real added value from being connected to a smartphone.

I have tested well over 10 smartwatches to date and keep going back to the Samsung Galaxy Gear because it gives me full access to my email at a glance. I will often use my Pebble watch, too, when I want it to deliver messages and alerts from my iPhone.

Each new smartwatch is smarter and more functional than the last, and while most still need a dose of style, smartwatches are here to stay and have the potential to become an integral part of our digital lifestyles.

But we’re not there yet. I have been talking to a lot of smartwatch makers that are excited about the category, but all of them tell me that they don’t believe smartwatches will really take off until Apple enters the space. Still, this will be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they fully expect Apple to nail the issue of style and functionality, in a device integrated seamlessly with the iPhone and iPad. But while Apple will help legitimise the smartwatch category, Apple will become the smartwatch powerhouse and dominate market share.

Ultimately, smartwatch makers could learn a lot from Apple, should it eventually enter the category. But they are still bracing for how Apple’s entry could affect their own products in the future.

For more on smartwatches, see our hands-on preview with Samsung’s Gear Fit and Gear 2.

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