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Does The Apple Watch Signal The Start Of A Smartwatch Revolution?

Does The Apple Watch Signal The Start Of A Smartwatch Revolution?

writes Saad Elkhadem, research analyst at IDC MEA.

Look at the people around you. Now look at their wrist. There is a fairly a good chance that they are wearing wristwatches. And there is a much bigger probability that none of them are wearing the same one.

That’s because a watch is a personal fashion accessory that is worn day in, day out for a prolonged period of time. As such, a watch tells you a lot about the person wearing it, and the chances are that there is a personal story behind it.

If you were to go out shopping for a watch tomorrow, you would be greeted with a plethora of choices that meet every budget and image – heritage brand or fashion house? Digital or analogue? Leather or plastic? And now another option awaits you – smartwatch or classical?

The concept of the smartwatch has always been around, long featuring in cartoons like The Jetsons and Inspector Gadget, where smartwatches were capable of performing all sorts of seemingly incredible acts. During 2013, however, the concept of the smartwatch slowly began emerging as a viable reality, with companies such as Pebble and Samsung showcasing their visions of how a smartwatch should look and behave.

The consumer world remained unconvinced, steadfastly refusing to jump onboard this latest technology trend. The smartwatch concept simply had too many shortcomings, chief among them being concerns around design, functionality, apps, and battery life.

Then in 2014 Google unveiled Android Wear, a version of its Android software that had been developed specifically for wearables. This was a key development, and one that was much needed in order to unify the developer field. Prior to the arrival of Android Wear, vendors were simply building their own software for their own smartwatches, thereby making it extremely difficult for developers to get on board.

IDC believes that securing the backing of app developers will play an essential role in determining the success, or otherwise, of smartwatches and wearable devices in general. And for that reason, the significance of Android Wear’s arrival cannot be overstated, as it instantaneously made it much simpler for developers to bring apps to this new platform.

Since the release of Android Wear, a steadily increasing band of companies have been releasing a variety of products in this category. A major theme that has surfaced in recent weeks is the emergence and importance of the style factor, and it is not difficult to understand why.

First and foremost, these devices need to look good in order for consumers to even consider picking one up and putting it on their wrist. In this regard, Motorola and LG have both released products that have been praised for their designs, primarily because they adopt a circular watch face. Traditionally, smartwatches came with square faces, but Android Wear is adaptable enough to operate in both formats, a feature that greatly enhances the design aesthetics of smartwatches.

With each passing month it seems that smartwatches are edging closer and closer to finally looking the part, although we have yet to reach the point where consumers are running out the door to pick one up. IDC’s primary explanation for this is that consumers are still not fully convinced of the reasons why they might need one. Despite this lingering skepticism, there was a sizeable section of the Apple user base that was eagerly awaiting the release of what was once coined the iWatch. Well, that wait is now over.

The much-anticipated Apple Watch was finally unveiled last week, and IDC believes it addresses many of the concerns that had been troubling the segment. In typical Apple fashion, the watch looks good and is a well-built, finely crafted piece of machinery. And it comes in two sizes, which is a very important factor as many consumers believe that while some of the watches currently on the market look great, they are too large for their personal tastes. Apple realises that a one-size-fits-all formula will not succeed in the watch segment, and with this in mind, the Apple Watch is extremely customisable, with a series of replaceable watch straps, styles, and finishes available.

During the launch, Apple was extremely vague on the issue of battery life, a challenge that most smartwatch vendors are battling to overcome. Most of the watches currently on the market last only a few days at best before requiring a recharge and consumers shouldn’t expect the Apple Watch to be any different.

As with Android Wear, Apple will be largely reliant on developers to bring true and meaningful functionality to the new device. The U.S. giant has already announced several interesting partnerships, including one with a hotel chain that will enable guests to unlock their doors with an Apple Watch, and another with a car company that will help users locate where their car is parked. You will even be able to pay for purchases with the devices.

However, such functionalities merely represent the tip of the iceberg, and much more will be known and seen during the first half of 2015 when the device goes on sale. And while it’s fair to say that the Apple Watch hasn’t exactly revolutionised the smartwatch segment, it has certainly succeeded in igniting it.

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