Since 2013, every year has been predicted to be that of the smartwatch. While underwhelming, it is a progress over 2001 when CNET called IBM’s attempt at a Linux wristwatch “impractical” and a “popular publicity gimmick”. And, certainly much more uplifting than the 1980s when Seiko’s and Casio’s, among many others’, bids to upend the watch market failed. Thanks to Apple, always the latecomer princess stealing the limelight, no one’s thinking about the smartwatch as only a nice business idea anymore. Apart from prices, shape, size and functions are the major issues that have kept the industry, already crowded, from taking off and rising to the sci-fi vision of people talking into their wristwatches. IT market research firm Current Analysis’s Avi Greengart, who said 2013 “might be” the year of the smartwatch, still believes the Apple Watch is a fashion device first and “it is unlikely that a watch would replace smartphones for most people”. Nonetheless, smartwatches were the talk of the Baselworld, the annual trade show of the global watch and jewellery industry, this year.
The latest entrant in the industry is Olio Devices. The San Francisco, US-based start-up is treading on Apple’s turf — minimalism. However, unlike Apple boss Tim Cook, Olio founder and chief Steve Jacobs doesn’t believe apps will be the game changer. Jacobs told Forbes recently: “Apps … don’t make sense for connected devices as a category, let alone the small real estate of something you wear on your wrist … Apple said this was successful on the iPhone, so they’re porting it over. One could say they’re doing that because they’re still trying to find that killer functionality. But the last thing we need is another group of apps on smaller screens.” The Olio Model One instead comes with a cloud service, Olio Assist, that will learn from your behaviour. The Olio sorts all notifications into two classes, ‘Earlier’ (events you missed) and ‘Later’ (those coming up). Jacobs makes an obvious point but only time will tell whose vision dominates. Especially given that Olio’s Model One is scarce (only 1,000 watches went up for preorder on March 26) and the software still pretty basic.
Besides, the company wants to remain a “boutique” business, as Jacobs told Forbes, instead of appealing to the masses.
Meantime, Gucci, Breitling and Bulgari showcased their smart ideas at Baselworld 2015. And, that is the reason this year could be different. For it’s not only technology companies trying to claim the year for their smartwatches. Traditional manufacturers are also falling over themselves to claim their place in that imminent market. Mint reported Bulgari Watches Managing Director Guido Terreni as announcing Baselworld was marking the year of the smartwatch in 2015. Tellingly, the new industry research firm Smartwatch Group is based in Zurich in Switzerland, home to the best of traditional watchmakers.
Even as the Cook-Jacobs debate on the evolution of the smartwatch remains to be settled, London-based music and TV app maker Shazam revealed at the Mobile World Congress in March this year it was talking to smartphone makers for developing a version of its app for smartwatches. Chief executive Rich Riley told CNBC at the show in Barcelona: “Where iOS and Android go is a logical place for Shazam to go — whether that is on wrists, cars or TVs.”
The forecast, too, is sanguine for the industry. Unlike in the 1980s when companies might have run ahead of time, demand for smartwatches is expected to boom this year. Market intelligence firm Strategy Analytics sees a 511 per cent jump in global shipments to a little over 28 million smartwatches in 2015 from a little less than five million last year.
No wonder digital news entrepreneur Dan Shanoff even predicted the rise of a new genre of news last year, in the wake of the Apple Watch’s Glance feature that lets you see updates from apps without opening them. In September, Harvard University’s internet media project, Nieman Journalism Lab, republished a newsletter by Shanoff, founder of digital news company Quickish, that tried to solve the news business’ problem of adapting to the mobile screen. He called the new genre of news as notifications of sorts for the ever shrinking attention spans and screen sizes “glance journalism”.
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Major smartwatches launched in 2014-15....