The wearable technology market has grown remarkably in the last several months - primarily due to smartwatch sales. Smartwatch sales were estimated at 6.8 million in 2014 (source: smartwatchgroup). New devices from Apple, Samsung, LG, Fitbit and many, many others introduce new features into the market, build on top of existing features or simplify the usage of the devices.
However, it is still just evolution of the wearable computer idea, not a revolution. I am a strong believer in this technology, and although I do see plenty of benefits of wearing a smartwatch daily, I still believe the ‘killer feature’ is yet to arrive for wearables. Just like I strongly believe someone out there should finally reinvent the spreadsheet applications to the trends and technologies of today, I also believe the best features and usage scenarios for smartwatches have not yet been dreamt up (or hopefully they have, but have not yet been introduced).
There are different groups of players in the smartwatch arena that could contribute to the innovation.
Well established large players (such as Apple or Samsung)
Their devices are very good, they are easy to use, introduce new UX concepts and are becoming very popular, but they are not technological breakthroughs. I believe the main issue right now is that many look at the smartwatch market as a market that is already established (of course in its very early stages). As the giants have products available already, they need to pay attention to the sales of those products and make sure that they are successful and sold in large volumes. This situation discourages them from experimenting - introducing new, radical ideas to the market, which would largely influence their position, and thus might influence their financial standing (e.g. through stock prices going down). Despite all of that, I would still expect innovation to come out of such companies - the innovation generation processes that those companies have in place should allow new technologies to see the light of day.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (one being the least probable that the innovation is going to originate at these companies and 10 being almost certain it is), I would give the well-established technology players a rating of 7.
Classic watch makers
With a long history (often a couple of centuries), they have a lot of experience in producing wearable devices. However, until today, these devices have not been too smart. It might be most difficult for companies such as Fossil or TAG Heuer to introduce real innovations to the market. Beautiful devices? Definitely. Breakthrough innovations? Doubtful. As these organizations were designed to produce items, which have not changed much over many decades, the people at these companies might not have what it takes to innovate in today’s smartwatch market. They need new people, with other backgrounds. Just like Nicolas G. Hayek was able to innovate the watch industry by introducing a cheap swiss watch to a market (full story here: Swatch), there might be a person out there somewhere working on a similar revolution, ready to hit the shelves tomorrow. Let’s hope this is the case, but in the meantime, I would give this industry a rating of 3 out of 10.
Newcomers and start-ups
In today’s world, a lot of the innovations do not come from the large industry leaders, but from small teams working on making their specific goals come true. A lot of the innovative, or even disruptive, technologies are introduced by small start-up companies, and the same might be true for the smart wearables. Pebble or Fitbit are some examples of companies that focus solely on smartwatch technologies, and are doing a pretty good job at delivering very good products to the market. With the fast pace of changes in the market today, they might be the ones driving the innovation as well - I would give it a 9 out of 10 chance.
Sport’s watch makers
Companies like Suunto, Polar or Garmin have been shipping special kinds of smartwatches to the market for a while now. Their devices demonstrated clear innovation long before Apple Watch or Android Wear. However, their innovation was a very narrow one - it only provided innovation towards sport applications. Today, sport and fitness might be one of the main factors why smartwatches are so popular; however, with their very specialized focus I would not bet on them delivering the next big thing in the smart wearables market. 3/10.
There definitely might be other sources of smartwatch innovation. As it often is with breakthrough innovation, it might appear from someone or somewhere we least expect it to. But, can you think of any other players out there?
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