Smartwatches: Has the bubble already popped?

You and your new smartwatch might still be in that period of blissful limerence, but there are indications that the love affair with this new class of products may have been a very short-lived one.

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Sarah Tew
You and your new smartwatch might still be in that period of blissful limerence, but there are indications that the love affair with this new class of products may have been a very short-lived one.

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First we have the rumor that Pebble, the company that kicked off a successful line of smartwatches with a $20 million dollar Kickstarter campaign, may be having trouble maintaining growth in the face of stiff competition coming not only from Apple but also from the established Android players. On top of that there's increased pressure from indie hardware makers such as Olio appearing on the scene.

While this is just a rumor, with the Pebble starting at $99 the price hardly leaves much wriggle room. Remember, the Apple Watch starts at $350, yet only costs Apple $85 to make. Pebble is not going to have anywhere near the supply chain clout that Apple has to be able to keep component costs down to an absolute minimum.

But things might not be all rosy for Apple either, with KGI Securities cutting its prediction for Apple Watch shipments by a half, down to under 15 million for this year. Sure, analysts can be wrong, but KGI Securities analyst Kuo Ming-Chi has a pretty good track record when it comes to Apple predictions.

I've been cautious when it comes to smartwatches. While the concept certainly has merit - and it's an idea that has infused popular culture for decades - the devices that are currently available seem to be mostly designed to take notifications from previously displayed on a smartphone and pop them onto a smaller wrist-mounted display. What's worse is that most feature require a smartphone to be within Bluetooth range at all times, which means it's just another device to carry and keep charged up.

Time management, health, fitness, and navigation all hold potential for the smartwatch, but until we start to see real innovation that gives the device tangibly useful features that aren't available on the smartphone or tablet form factor, it's difficult to see beyond the novelty factor. But if smartwatches are going to thrive beyond the honeymoon period, are going to have to address the issue of why people need them, rather than rely on people wanting a smartwatch just for the sake of owning one.

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