Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wearables Seem to be Flopping

In June, NPD reported that less than 500,000 smartwatches have been sold since October 2013.
They also reported that only 20% of consumers had any interest in smartwatches at all.

The Google Android Wear app (necessary for anyone with an AW smartwatch) is only showing 100,000 - 500,000 installs on the Play Store.

Today, I ran across this TechEye post featuring a report from Tata Communications saying that only 15% of the British are interested in wearables. The corresponding number for the US is only 12%!

Fitness band maker, Jawbone, just made it possible to use their app without having a band, prompting Adriana Lee of ReadWrite to comment:
With the new app, Jawbone’s step-tracking features work using the phone alone, no rubber shackle necessary.  [Emphasis added.]
Numerous publications enthusiastically covered the Jawbone announcement, especially the part about lack of "wristband" or "wearable". Google news currently has 75 stories about the release.

Here's a selection of headlines that give you the flavor:

It seems pretty clear that people are not thrilled about having something on their wrists.

Android Wear and Apple Watch smartwatches are not good bets at this point.

While Google Glass is achieving some specialized acceptance in places like surgery, it is largely regarded as either a joke or as offensive, with a surprising number of places outright banning the technology. I don't really find it offensive or funny myself, but I do think of it as both unnecessary and as under-powered/over-priced (even if it were $300) for the value it delivers.

I believe a big factor in adoption of wearables is battery life -- numerous others have commented on this. People don't want another electronic gadget that needs charging every day.

Another big factor is that people seem to want less notification, not more.
I wrote earlier about Android Wear reviewers universally condemning AW's notification model:
I've seen similar complaints about Samsung Gear, Google Glass and Pebble.

I'm fond of my FitBit flex... it needs charging only about once a week and sends me email when it needs charging. It syncs automatically when I get back to the house. It then automatically notifies MyFitnessPal so that I can an updated calorie target. It is almost invisible to me.

I'm potentially interested in Intel's new version of a fitness tracker:
It want one because it adds heart monitoring and time to what I get from the FitBit Flex... BUT... I only want it if it has decent battery life. It must easily last 24 hours or I won't even consider it. Really, I don't want to have to charge it more than twice a week. I'm am interested because the diet I'm on requires careful monitoring of activity and this is hard to do without technology. The Intel device would allow me to replace two devices (a FitBit Flex and a Polar heart monitor) with one.

The important points about my desire for the Intel devices is:

  • It meets a real need.
  • It makes that need more easily satisfied.
  • The cost matches my perception of value.

In the end, I find it interesting that the most popular wearables out there are specialty devices. FitBit Flex, Jawbone and others easily outsell all smartwatches. I strongly suspect that the average person has no interest in a general platform on their watch (e.g. Android Wear, Apple Watch).

Looking at Google Glass, again what one sees is that it is only being used in places with a special need.

I think smartwatch and other wearables makers need to rethink their offerings from the ground up. Simple, inexpensive and filling real needs are what is going to win the day.


  1. What would you say are "real needs" of smart watches?

  2. Current date and time. :-)
    More seriously, I'm not a big fan at this point of general purpose smartwatches, precisely because I don't see much in the way of "real needs".
    There is a serious sized market for health bands.
    Specifically, step counts, elevation changes, heart rate, sleep detection and blood pressure.
    It they could make a non-invasive way to do glucose monitoring, there's a big market for that.
    But current smartwatches miss the point. To work in that fashion, a step counter/sleep detector MUST be on your wrist 24/7 minus a *small* amount of time for charging. Only the Pebble comes close to this and its sensors seem to be weak. They need to be water resistant, or preferably waterproof for swimming. They need to be able to collect data without the presence of a smart phone. They should not be ugly. The next Intel Basis Peak, appears that it might finally be a viable candidate in this realm. For some people, GPS would be a nice feature, but probably isn't practical due to battery drain.

    What isn't essential is a color touch screen doing unnecessary animations and a myriad of notification and utility functions. The Apple Watch will look pretty, but it will have lousy battery life. That holds true for all of the Android Wear watches (well some aren't that pretty).


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