Smartwatches: Is the time right?

October 3, 2013 • Gadgets and Gaming

Samsung last week announced their Galaxy Gear device, which tethers to their newly-announced Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. Although Samsung stops short of calling it a smartwatch, the watch functions as a companion device by delivering information (such as email and appointments) via wearable technology.

Samsung's Galaxy Gear is the latest addition to the wearable technology category (image: Samsung)

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is the latest addition to the wearable technology category (image: Samsung)

Samsung isn’t the first company to develop a watch that functions as a companion device, as Italian company I’m Watch revealed their offering to the media at the annual Mobile World Congress in February.

One of the more popular choices for a smart watch comes from Pebble, while Sony also recently unveiled a similar device. Technology giant Apple is also said to be developing their own version of wearable technology, but is the market ready for it?

While smart watches have been popular with early adopters, research firm On Device Research has released the results of a recent study they conducted with 1,500 smartphone owners in the US and the UK, and the data reveals that smart watches are not as popular as one would think.

65% of respondents had heard of smart watches and over 50% knew about wearable fitness trackers, but the data showed a low sustained interest in these devices – 45% of respondents said that they had stopped using them, citing “they forgot to wear it” or “no longer interested” as the main reasons.

“Companies making these devices need to ensure their products remain exciting for users once the initial enthusiasm ebbs. Furthermore, wearable devices need to be comfortable, attractively designed, easy to use and have great battery life,” said Ben Wood, chief of research for CCS Insight, who partnered with On Device Research.

Of the respondents, over 38% said that they had never heard of a smart watch, while over 37% said that they had heard of it, but had never seen one. Only 4% in the US and 2% in the UK said that they had such a device.

In many instances the cost of smart watches and companion devices are inhibitors to purchases, as Samsung’s Gear is $300 and only works in conjunction with the Galaxy Note 3 – which is another $900 users have to fork over.

“To justify the high price point manufacturers need to educate the market and show clear use cases for smart watches. There is interest but consumers are unclear what they are for and how these watches can improve their lives,” Woods added. “Given many consumers are used to getting their smartphones ‘free’ with a contract, that’s a hefty sum to pay on top.”

But it might not all be doom-and-gloom for the wearable technology industry, as 1 in 5 respondents indicated their intention to purchase a smart watch or would like to receive one as a gift this Christmas – over 42% said that they were not sure, while over 34% said they were not interested. Of the respondents, 83% in the US and 64% in the UK said that they were interested in technology, citing it as the main reason why they would get a smart watch.

On the other side of the scale, 40% in the UK and 38% in the US said that they were not planning on buying a smart watch, as they “don’t see the point”, while 34% said that price was a major inhibitor.

“Wearable technology and Smart watches could be the next big thing in consumer electronics. If manufacturers don’t work hard to break out of the gadget-loving, geek niche then all the promises will come to nothing,” Woods concluded.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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