Despite Android reach, Google has its work cut out for it in the wearables market

Despite Android reach, Google has its work cut out for it in the wearables market

Summary: Android now has more than a billion active users worldwide, but only 2.5 million of them actually own wearables, according to Nielsen.


SAN FRANCISCO — Current Android owners are most likely very much aware of wearables, but only a small fraction of the billion active users and counting are actually regularly using them, based on a new survey from Nielsen.

According to the global measurement firm, approximately 2.5 million "average Android users" owned an Android-powered wearable Bluetooth device as of February 2014.

Furthermore, these users are said to only actually check and use their wearables approximately 14 times per month — a ridiculously low rate when you compare that to the reported average for smartphone users checking their devices 125 per day, according to Google leadership this week.

There are a few ways of looking at this. On the positive side, the user count figure is five times higher than what it was just a few months prior in September 2013.

But during Wednesday's keynote address, Android and Chrome chief Sundar Pichai boasted that the count for active monthly ("30-day") users stands at one billion worldwide and counting.

Basically, Google and friends have their work cut out for them in pushing wearables out the door and into the hands (and onto the wrists) of more consumers.

The Internet giant has since made a big to-do at I/O 2014 this week in presenting how it plans to use Android to connect all of the dots between devices from the home to the car to virtually everywhere we go.

That last item will be served by smartphones, tablets, and the buzzworthy gadget category du jour, wearable technology.

To beef up wearables (and get more onto the market through the established mobile OEM ecosystem), Google unveiled Android Wear, a Google Now cards-heavy interface populating these devices with bite-sized but vital pieces of data, such as flight times, shipment notifications, and directions.

Google is simultaneously leaning on and promoting a pair of smartwatches from LG and Samsung to help spearhead the market, which, despite a great deal of attention for months on end now, has yet to really take off beyond wearables focused on health and fitness.

"Computing should start to disappear," Raffle explained, "It should fade into the background of our lives. It should be ephemeral, not the foreground of our attention all the time."

Then there is an even more sophisticated project in the works that is garnering more desire, if not from being continually shrouded in secrecy than verifiable advanced functionality.

That would be the Moto 360, made by Motorola Mobility, the once-great and now-beleaguered mobile device maker that has been carved up into parts by Google amid its upcoming sale to Lenovo.

The futuristic smartwatch (curiously the only one with a round clock face) is being kept in the dark from the press and consumers, although developers and media who were present at I/O this week will finally get their grubby hands (or wrists?) on one later this summer.

For the general public, Motorola dropped another tidbit in its long-con game (much like what it did with the Moto X smartphone last summer) of luring consumers in with a new promo video on Thursday.

This time, the platform (Android Wear) and the features provided by this architecture hold the spotlight more than the design. 

That in itself might be part of the problem as to why wearables are slow at the starting line. The leaps and bounds this technology has made can be fascinating to some (especially to tech insiders and developers), but timepieces are still very much sartorial accessories for many shoppers. Aesthetics are always going to be a make-or-break aspect in this market.

Designers at Google appear to at least recognize this conundrum.

Hayes Raffle, who leads the interaction research team behind Glass, said during a session about designing for wearables on Wednesday that one of the concepts that heavily influences his department is that the user experience can never compete "with the beautiful things around you," but rather just provide help and connectivity to others during the "moment you are in."

"Computing should start to disappear," Raffle explained, "It should fade into the background of our lives. It should be ephemeral, not the foreground of our attention all the time."

Despite suffering from backlash on a number of fronts (including the overtly geeky image), Google has been very proactive in reaching out to the top tiers of the fashion industry for help in both design and image while revving Glass up for a full scale consumer launch this year.

Most recently, Mountain View tapped New York-based designer Diane von Furstenberg to collaborate on a new line of "chic eyewear" to go with Glass.

If Google could apply that same ambition to other wearables far more primed and ready for the mass consumer market than a pair of $1,500 frames that still don't actually do much, then the wearables market might be propelled into the mainstream far more quickly than ever anticipated.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Hardware, Tech Industry

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  • Product looking for market

    Here is a product still looking for a market. Unless someone can make it cool to wear a smart watch I think these products will remain a niche for geeky people who need a dozen ways to check messages and post to Facebook. So far they have been redundant functioning devices and even though I expect Apple to jump into this mix because they are desperate for a "new" product. Apple will also struggle to convince even its flock that watches are in.
    • I agree with you and the author

      I agree with what you say. A smart watch would be highly redundant, and would probably make sense, only if people didn't carry around their smartphones everywhere. As for Google glass, that is going to be a doozy. I wouldn't allow anyone into my house wearing those things. That thing is going to be banned from almost everywhere. I've seen a story about software which can be used with Google glass, to determine the PIN numbers punched in by shoppers, as they use their debit cards. I can just see lawmakers all of over the U.S. condemning it, as they pass laws banning the device.

      Smart glasses can have success in certain vertical applications (functions such as medical examinations, which can benefit from augmented reality) where users don the glasses for certain tasks, then take them off right away. Maybe smart glasses could work generally, if they and the apps they use, are highly regulated, and generally disallow surveillance and other functions that threaten privacy.
      P. Douglas
      • IT AND US

        Let’s take liberals and conservatives, since we are theorizing that they are two distinct thinking styles: liberals would be more flexible and reliant on data, proof, and analytic reasoning, and conservatives are more inflexible (prefer stability), emotion-driven, and connect themselves intimately with their ideas, making those beliefs a crucial part of their identity (we see this in more high-empathy-expressing individuals). This fits in with the whole “family values” platform of the conservative party, and also why we see more religious folks that identify as conservatives, and more skeptics, agnostics, and atheists that are liberal. Religious people are more unshakable in their belief of a higher power, and non-religious people are more open to alternate explanations, i.e., don’t rely on faith alone.
        So—for liberals to make a case for an idea or cause, they come armed with data, research studies, and experts. They are convinced of an idea if all the data checks out–basically they assign meaning and value to ideas that fit within the scientific method, because that’s their primary thinking style. Emotion doesn’t play as big of a role in validation. Not to say that liberals are unfeeling, but just more likely to set emotion aside when judging an idea initially, and factor it in later. Checks out scientifically = valuable. Liberals can get just as emotionally attached to an idea, but it’s usually not the primary trigger for acceptance of an idea.
        Conservatives would be less likely to assign value primarily using the scientific method. Remember, their thinking style leads primarily with emotion. In order for them to find an idea valuable, it has to be meaningful for them personally. It needs to trigger empathy. Meaning, they need some kind of emotional attachment to it, such as family, or a group of individuals they are close to in some way.
        Firozal Mullar
    • Exactly.

      Few people wear watches anymore. We already carry better functionality in our phones. This would have been amazing if it came out over a decade ago, but the vast majority of people have moved on from watches. I'm actually surprised they've sold a million. Still, a million represents 0.1% of the Android base. That's tiny. By next year, we'll have several big guns fighting over a very tiny market. It seems pointless to me.
      • Wrong

        If "few people wear watches anymore", why are there millions of them produced each year? Why does every retailer in America sell them? Why are there hundreds of watch-sellers online?

        Stop making up stuff.
        • When, then are there still bookstores?

          A dying market doesn't mean no market at all.

          It's been about 35 years since I last wore a watch. The reason I don't wear them has nothing to do with how smart or dumb they are.
      • They're jewslery

        People do wear watches, but it's usually as jewelry and not for function. The only time I wear one to keep track of time is a sport watch as the phone doesn't like the pool much.
        Buster Friendly
    • There is absolutely no evidence at all

      that Apple is desperate for a new product. Companies that are desperate for new products, constantly throw things out into the market, hoping they'll be that successful new product. Kind of like Google does.
      • You're right...

        Apple isn't desperate for a new product... which is probably why they haven't introduced one in years.
        • You mean, of course other than the Mac Pro

          the iPhone 5c and 5s and the iPad mini.

          Or do you mean a paradigm shifting product like the iPod, iPhone, iPad, OS X or Macbook Air?

          Yeah, Apple hasn't had one of those in about five years. The last time Google had one was 1998. The last time Microsoft had one was 1995.
          • They are no longer "new"

            Those products are now old hat. Mac Pro isn't a new product, it's just a fancy PC. iPod is now ancient. iPads are common. Apple does need new products to remain relevant and show that it can still innovate. Apple is thought of as a products company, which worked for a while. But the real money is in services.
    • It has a market...

      People who don't have a cellphone, watch or sex-life.
      • There is another market

        People who want a smartphone and a smartwatch. I'm one of them, because for me the smart watch is not redundant. I want to leave my smartphone in my pocket or bag; most of the time I don't need to type, I just need to view notifications and consume other small bits of information.

        There are many things in daily life where we need only to perform pre-define actions, where we don't need to type. I think the smart watch will enable us to perform time saving macro actions.
        • They don't work well for that

          Due to size issues, watches are very bad at presenting information beyond a few digits for the time. Also when you get to 40, you won't be able to see it all until you also keep some reading glasses with you.
          Buster Friendly
    • Wrong

      You didn't think you needed a tablet until Apple gave one to you. Now everybody and their uncle is making tablets. As usual, Apple will lead the way and show you why you need a smart watch. Soon Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Amazon and everyone else will copy the bejeezus out of Apple's design, put 10 different sensors on it and call it their design.
      • Not really

        A tablet is just a variation of the smartphone which is a variation of the PDA. I still have a Palm III and a Palm V although I doubt the batteries are still good.
        Buster Friendly
      • tablets

        My first tablet was a Win2k slate; built and sold long before the word ipad entered public usage. Apple didn't lead; they refined an existing device and figured out how to sell millions of them. Nothing wrong with that, it was a great iterative step; but Apple didn't give me a reason to need a tablet, so please refrain from telling other people you do not know how they decided to want a tablet.

        On topic, does wearable have to be a watch and glasses? I do not wear jewelry of any sort, ever, no watches, no rings, no necklaces, etc, and usually won't wear my glasses. OTOH, I use BT stereo headsets enough to regularly wear them out from heat and wet, and I often wear a bluetooth chest strap Heart rate monitor. They seem to be wearables to me, and they seem to converse with my Android just fine....

        Wearables are going to be a really weird market to nail; the use cases will be much more specific, but there could be a really large number of honestly different devices on the horizon.
    • sdsds

  • Not clear ...

    Are you saying that Android - among others - has an uphill battle to get wearables accepted and bought ... or are you saying that Android "compared to others" is facing an uphill struggle?

    If the former, then the sneer at glass, and the singling out of Google are both redundant.

    If the latter, then some evidence of others doing better would be nice. Because I've yet to see any.

    Or is this just another 'let's bash Google' article? Surely the boys at Burson Marstellar can come up with something new, just for once?
    • Android will have an uphill battle to get wearables accepted and bought

      because the very large percentage of those "Android sales" aren't really sales at all to the end customer - a very large percentage of the Android phones in use are the free to $29/$49 models, to be sure (just look around in public for conformation of that).

      So unless these wearable's are subsidized, so that the typical Android user will get them for free to next to nothing, I can't see them rushing out to buy them in any type of volume to make them a success, not in the sense that an iOS user WILL likely buy an Apple version, as they've shown a willingness to buy an iPhone for $200.