2 min read

Smartwatches not ticking with buyers

IDC reports the smartwatch market dropped by more than 50 percent in the third quarter of 2016.

It says 2.7 million units shipped during the quarter compared with 5.6 million units in the third quarter of 2015. IDC goes on to say:

Although the decline is significant, it is worth noting that 3Q15 was the first time Apple’s Watch had widespread retail availability after a limited online launch.

Meanwhile, the second generation Apple Watch was only available in the last two weeks of 3Q16.

In other words there was pent up demand when Apple first launched the Watch and things have settled down. Mauricio Freitas from Geekzone hit the nail on the head with his tweet:

It seems all early adopters have bought their smartwatches and the mainstream doesn’t give a damn. Is that right?

— Mauricio Freitas (@freitasm)
October 25, 2016

IDC offers a different interpretation:

The sharp decline in smartwatch shipment volumes reflects the way platforms and vendors are realigning,” says Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables team.

He says: “Apple revealed a new look and feel to watchOS that did not arrive until the launch of the second generation watch at the end of September. Google’s decision to hold back Android Wear 2.0 has repercussions for its OEM partners as to whether to launch devices before or after the holidays. Samsung’s Gear S3, announced at IFA in September, has yet to be released. Collectively, this left vendors relying on older, ageing devices to satisfy customers.”

While all of this makes sense, it misses something more fundamental. Smartwatch makers have failed to capture the imagination of anyone outside of a geeky inner circle. There is evidence the devices have not been popular here in New Zealand.

Smartwatches have tiny, hard-to-read displays not capable of handling much information beyond basic notifications. They act as hand-off devices to phones which are rarely more than a metre away and often more suited to the tasks in hand.

It’s embarrassing taking an incoming call on a Watch. There’s nothing cool about it. No-one looks on in admiration or envy. If anyone reacts at all it will be with contempt or pity. If anything it’s a reminder of the Google Glass glassholes mess.

There are useful functions. Almost every smartwatch includes fitness and health apps which have improved in the past two years. Being able to pay for coffee by waving a watch at a terminal is neat. Likewise logging on to a Mac with the Apple Watch is useful. Although perhaps not NZ$500 worth of useful.

As Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers says; “It has also become evident that at present smartwatches are not for everyone”.

That’s putting it mildly. They are a niche product for a small audience that craves technical novelty. Until watchmakers add functions that make work more productive or life more fun, they will stay that way.