New research suggests that unless the iPhone maker enters the wearable technology market that devices like smartwatches will remain a gimmick.
With every week that passes another rumor surfaces purporting to have the inside track on the iWatch, the wearable device that everyone believes Apple is building.
Samsung was so convinced by the reports that it panicked and very quickly knocked together a smartwatch of its own, the Galaxy Gear, which became the recipient of a number of very poor reviews. Even the company itself admits it may have jumped the gun and is working on a much better device due for launch some time next year.
Yet despite this lack of an Apple-branded product, there is no end to the analysts and experts who are claiming the smartwatch revolution is almost upon us and that before the end of the decade, they will be the must-have devices for all tech savvy consumers. One such firm, Juniper Research, is so bullish about wearable technology that on Tuesday it upwardly revised its latest report on the subject. It now believes that by 2018, revenues from wearable tech devices will have surpassed $19 billion, compared with $1.9 billion by the end of this year.
It believes that the rapid increase in demand for such devices will be caused by competition between companies already in the sector and those entering it for the first time. It also claims that these devices will either be focused on multimedia and entertainment — such as headsets for gaming — or on mirroring and replacing the functions and services currently associated with smartphones and other connected mobile devices such as making calls, dictating messages and running apps.
But it's not just research firms that have been bitten by the wearable tech bug. A recent SSI survey published in September which polled over 3,600 consumers from seven countries including the U.S., U.K. and Japan found that one-in-three consumers are already aware of and excited by the possibility of wearable technology and that in the U.S. alone, 40% of consumers are already prepared to buy a device. When asked what type of device would most take their fancy, 65% of all respondents plumped for a smartwatch, with headsets such as Google Glass coming in second (55% when asked to rank a list of devices in terms of preference).
All of which is why a new report form Digitimes, published on Monday, makes for slightly more sober and realistic reading on the subject.
The publication believes that the sector is at a crossroads and the direction it takes is all dependent on one thing: whether or not Apple joins the party. Because without the desirability of an Apple-branded product in the space and the company's expertise at marketing its products, wearable technology will remain a niche.
“If Apple releases its iWatch in the second half of 2014, smartwatch annual shipments are estimated at 5.92 million units for 2014, 22.79 million for 2015 and 75.66 million for 2016. Without the iWatch, the estimated shipment volumes will reduce to 1.82 million, 6.19 million and 24.15 million from 2014-2016, respectively,” the report claims.
The only other wearable technology device of similar note and notoriety, Google Glass, is not scheduled for a consumer release until late 2014 and even then, its launch will be limited to North America. During MIT's EmTech conference earlier this month, Mary Lou Jepsen, who currently heads the display division in Google's “Google X” lab, told the audience that she and her team are currently working around the clock on Google's Glass successor, signaling that the technology is still very much a work in progress.
One of the key things that the next generation of the device will focus on is outward appearance. There will be a concerted effort to make wearers look less like cyborgs.
That's an issue that Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, has with the device. Speaking during the D11 conference in May, he stressed that getting people to wear glasses who don't have problems with their eyesight is a hard sell. “I'm interested in a great product. I wear glasses because I have to. People generally want glasses to reflect their fashion, style, etc. So this is difficult from a mainstream point of view,” he said. “I think the wrist is natural. I think there are other things in this space that could be interesting.” In saying so he continued to fuel rumors that an iWatch is indeed on its way.
But if Apple really is about to launch a smartwatch, what will it do and why would anyone who already owns an Apple-branded smartphone want one?
The latest report, courtesy of Cantor Fitzgerald's Brian White, claims that the device will arrive next October and will be used to control music, home security, thermostat settings and the lights, rather than a tethered smartphone or tablet. “As an Apple supplier, our contact offered insight into the 'iWatch' and described this potential new device as much more than an extension of your iPhone but as a multi-purpose gateway in allowing consumers to control their home (i.e., heating/cooling, lights, audio, video, etc.),” White said in a research note issued over the weekend.
For now, the only companies really making any impact in the wearable technology space are those focused on sports and fitness. Products like Jawbone's UP and Nike's FuelBand are proving a hit with consumers who want to harness the latest technology to quantify their lives and keep a tighter control of their workouts, routines and dietary intake, and it is sales of these devices that are driving the whole of the wearable technology market. The latest forecasts suggest that even without a smartwatch revolution, there will be some 98 million users of app-enabled wearable hardware devices by 2018, up from 15 million this year.