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Bill Bennett

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Smartwatches a geek ghetto

Huawei Watch
Huawei Watch

New Zealand auction site TradeMe lists dozens, maybe hundreds, of Apple Watches. Many are new or nearly new.

This is unremarkable. Every imaginable electronic device is available on TradeMe.

Yet the number of unwanted Apple Watches is high for a small country like New Zealand. The number is high considering how few Watches have sold here. And prices are low, often much lower than in the online Apple Store.

It’s not just Apple. You’ll find plenty of  Samsung Galaxy Gear watches on TradeMe. Other, less well-known smartwatch brands are also represented.

Smartwaches fail to excite

Smartwatches have failed to capture the public imagination in the way smart phones and tablets did. Sales are a long way behind the bullish forecasts made when the category started.

According to research company IDC smartwatch shipments for the recent quarter are down by a third on the same time last year. A total of 3.5 million units were shipped compared with 5.1 million for the same period a year earlier.

Apple Watch sales were hardest hit. Shipments are down 55 percent to about 1.6 million. That’s still about half the smartwatch market, but being the biggest fish in a puddle is nothing to boast about.

IDC says Apple Watch sales have stalled because customers are waiting for new models and a WatchOS update.

Disappointing

This may be true, but it doesn’t disguise how disappointing this category has been for the companies making smartwatches.

One problem is that, health and fitness applications aside, smartwatches do little that is new or useful.

For the most part smartwatches deliver notifications and act as a hand-off to mobile phones. Given people are rarely more than a few millimetres from their phones, that functionality borders on pointless.

Meanwhile, the health and fitness applications are covered off by a separate, lower-cost  class of device. IDC defines a smartwatch as a wearable device that can run third party apps. Fitbit devices don’t qualify.

Today’s smartwatches have tiny, hard to read displays. Entering data is near impossible. Battery life is pathetic. Integration with other devices is far from perfect. It’s not difficult understanding why they don’t sell.

Whether that can change over time remains to be seen. For now they remain a freak show, a geek ghetto that even hardcore geeks often choose to avoid.

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