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Smart watch: The revolution that didn't happen

Apple makes money selling Watches. In 2015 Apple said it made more money from watches than any company except Rolex.

By that standard Apple's Watch business is a success. Imagine the reaction if anyone else had gone from nowhere to the number two watch market position in a couple of years. It remains an outstanding achievement.

Yet, put Apple aside, and the smart watch sector doesn't look good. There may not even be a worthwhile smart watch market beyond Apple. Almost no-one else makes money from selling smart watches1.

Pointless smart watch


It's hard to see the point of a smart watch. Even the best ones do little useful beyond collecting health information and sending notifications.

Sure, health is important. But there are other ways to collect the data. As for notifications... well whoopee.

There's a fatal flaw in the thinking behind smart watches. They promise to be the most intimate computing device. Yet you need a phone to get any value from a smart watch.

And phones are without question the most intimate devices. We live in an era when most people's phones are rarely more than an arm's length away. It's not often you can't reach your phone.

This means the device on your wrist might spend most of its time just 100mm or so closer to your eyes, ears or brain than your phone. It'll be even further from your heart.

Phones are better


Phone have better screens, better speakers and better processors. Your phone can vibrate a notification if that's important to you. It is in every respect a superior way of getting information from wherever to you brain.

Yet, by definition, you must already have a phone if you own a smart watch.

If you're a solider on active service, or someone who climbs a rope for a living then a watch might be more practical communications tool than a phone. Otherwise, you're kidding yourself.

Few people are more productive or enjoy better lives because they have a smart watch.

Ugly


Away from the sensible stuff. Smart watches are universally ugly. All of them are too big to be comfortable on a wrist. The screens are hard to read. If they speak to you the sound is often pathetic. Pushing screen buttons is challenging.

Don't take my word for it. In April Huawei deputy chairman and rotating CEO Eric Xu Zhijun told analysts he never wears a smart watch. That's not remarkable, few sensible people do wear smart watches.

However, Xu is boss of the second or third biggest smart watch maker. His company launched a new model about the time he made his statement. Huawei has been making smart watches since they first appeared. It may even have sold some.

Companies that rely on smart watch sales are struggling. Fitbit has laid off staff this year. You might argue that Fitbit devices are not smart watches but activity trackers. Yet in January the company has tried moving into smart watches. It acquired another struggling smart watch maker, Pebble.

Android smart watches are still bug-ridden, unreliable devices. I've yet to see one that isn't embarrassing.

It's not just smart watches. The entire watch sector is in decline. Few people under the age of 40 wear any kind of watch. If younger folk don't see the need for a Swatch, why would they turn to a more expensive, buggy alternative that needs to be charged every 12 hours?



  1. If you're thinking this is a lot like the history of the phone market since the iPhone took off, you'd be right.



Smart watch: The revolution that didn't happen was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

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