Gartner says consumers are unconvinced by smartwatches and will stick to tablets this Christmas
Despite the hope of many manufacturers that smartwatches can help compensate for slowing smartphone revenues, Gartner says the unattractive designs, expensive price tags and lack of functionality will ensure consumer spending is focused on tablets and fitness bands this Christmas.
Early entrants into the fledgling market include the Kickstarter-funded Pebble, the Sony Smartwatch 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Gear, but analysts say consumers are unconvinced.
“Samsung and other well-known vendors have recently entered the smartwatch space, yet the products we’ve seen so far have been rather uninspiring in terms of design, available apps and features,” says Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner. “There are still several significant barriers to mainstream adoption, including low interest and awareness among consumers, poor design and price.”
Barriers to adoption
Central to the lack of appeal is the vast difference in capabilities and specifications among the available devices, with some models capable of replacing a smartphone entirely, and others acting as an accessory.
Analysts say there should be a balance between inoperability and independent function in order to justify the considerable expense of the smartwatch. The Samsung Galaxy Gear has received negative reviews since launch, with many bemoaning the fact it only has 90 dedicated applications.
“Even though smart watches play a ‘supporting role’ to smartphones, designing the smart watch only to act as a secondary device will consign it to failure,” claims Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner.
But perhaps the most damning criticism of existing smartwatches is their unattractiveness. This might not deter early adopters, but it is limiting their mainstream appeal, especially since watches are often seen as not only timepieces, but also as a fashion accessory.
Before launch, it was speculated that the Galaxy Gear could feature a flexible OLED display; although future iterations could feature the technology, observers have bemoaned a lack of innovative design.
However there is no doubt there is at least some appetite for the form factor. Despite the critical panning, Samsung claims to have sold 800,000 Galaxy Gear devices, while Pebble was able to raise $9 million in funding from 69,000 backers on crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter in 2012.
Some believe the arrival of the iWatch, the smartwatch that Apple is widely believed to be working on, will drive demand, especially since it appears to have recognised the importance of fashion industry knowledge in its hiring of Burberry CEO Andrea Ahrendts to head up its retail stores.
Analysts have suggested Apple could sell between five and ten million iWatches during the first year of availability, generating estimated revenues of around £1.6 billion.
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