The desktop computer, which has ruled the Earth since around 1976, has lost significant ground in the last decade to smart phones, tablets, and laptops. The “netbook” now looks like nothing more than a footnote in the history of technology. The tablet started weak before Apple put its spin on it with the iPad in 2010 (early tablet computers saw limited success in the 1990s including Apple’s Newton line). So, where do we go from here? The smart watch is likely the answer.
I’ve written and talked a lot about the fact that wearable computing technology will demonstrate the most growth in the industry in the foreseeable future. A recent article and study (http://on.mash.to/1gbjom1) points out that we are likely to see 45-million smart watches sold per year by 2017. While that might seem like a lot of units, it’s actually not if you compare it to cellular phones or tablet computers.
So, it seems like everyone is talking about wearable bands and smart watches flooding the market with some pretty big companies on board. While the numbers look respectable, they fall short of other similar technology ventures. Is it the lower price point? Poor adoption rates? Or perhaps a misunderstanding of just exactly what these devices do and how they work.
It turns out that “smart” watches aren’t really as smart as you might think. Current offerings from companies, such as Samsung and Sony, both rely heavily on a smart phone to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s not really all that much of a surprise. It’s hard to put a lot of computing power into something light and durable that fits on your wrist and can take some pretty heavy abuse. Until the watches are able to do more, it would appear that adoption rates are a little slower than what we have seen with tablets. End users are also left a little confused trying to understand which products interact with each other, much in the same way they have trouble grasping how their laptop, cell phone, and tablet can all co-exist in a single environment.
Consumers are looking for more health-related functionality in their wearable computers as products like the Shine from Misfit Wearables and the UP from Jawbone are providing information about our daily activities (like monitoring our sleep) and video game juggernaut Nintendo is even going to be jumping on the technology and health bandwagon (see http://bit.ly/1ezvHEl). Yet, while you would think that sales of traditional wrist watches would be dropping fast in turns out that this is actually not true, according to Market Watch (http://on.mktw.net/1bPVrfo).
While Samsung and Sony are not pushing the health-tracking benefits of their products (even though both contain compatible apps), it looks as if Apple will be promoting the health angle of their iWatch, expected to hit the market later this year. According to this recent article (http://tchno.be/1g2kGh1), Apple just hired a biometric expert and it is estimated that over 200 people are currently dedicated to building this new product that we officially know very little about.
Sales of current smart watches are certainly not on fire (about eight million are expected to sell this year), but it’s quite possible that with Apple on board bringing their “cool,” “hip” and “chic” feel to this growing segment, the numbers could change dramatically. The market size is expected to grow from around $3 billion today to over $50 billion in just five years.
I have no doubt that wearable technology is a market to keep a close eye on. I’m not completely convinced that the “smart watch” will take over the world by storm. But I think it will be the leader into a new unexplored camp that just wasn’t possible 10 or 20 years ago.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again: If you want to know what the future holds for technology, just watch the science fiction from a few decades ago. Most of the communication we saw in Star Trek is now coming true. If we could just get working on those space ships and warp drive, I’ll be a lot happier.
Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum (http://www.pcmuseum.ca) and the manager of information technology at ACIC / Methapharm. You can reach him via-email at email@example.com or on Twitter @sydbolton.
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