Why the projected boom in smart watches is no threat to smartphones and tablets

by David Needle

August 27 2013

What to make of so-called smart watches? Are they a new generation of communication device? A mini-tablet on your wrist? Internet-connected health monitor? Or will new apps and uses emerge that redefine our notion of mobile computing?

The one thing most observers seem to agree is that the new devices won’t be any smarter at telling time and that won’t be the primary reason for buying them.

But they will bought - in the millions. Tech analysis firm Juniper Research predicts app-enabled smart watch shipments will reach a whopping 38 million per year by 2018.

That compares to just over 1 million smart watch devices expected to ship this year.

The smart watch charge will be led by two of the biggest providers of mobile devices today, Apple and Samsung, who have both applied for trademarks (iWatch and Galaxy Gear respectively) and patents that leave little doubt they plan to enter the smart watch fray.

Juniper analyst Nitin Bhas says he expects Apple and Samsung will help to validate the smart watch category and inspire other competitors to enter the space.

“In addition, being a key influencer, these player’s entry into the smart watch segment will benefit existing smart watch players – providing an increase in awareness and adoption of other wearable devices,” Bhas said in a report.

You can also expect these new multi-function Smart Watches to be premium products that offer more capabilities than the current early products such as the Pebble and the Sony Smart Watch.

(Mobile app development and app strategy will be the focus of sessions at the upcoming TabletBiz conference and expo in New York on November 13, 2013). 

Opportunities for app developers

Juniper says these multi-function smart watches will be able to perform an array of additional functionalities such as tracking fitness and sports activities, payments or ticketing.

And as we’ve seen with tablets, expect the emergence of smart watches to open up significant opportunities for app developers, in this case across the health, fitness, sports and communications segments.

Juniper also projects that app-enabled mobile wireless accessory shipments will approach 170 million units by 2018

Smartphones, tablets rule

Still, 38 million in annual shipments for smart watches is but a fraction of the hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets that will ship annually and Juniper expects smart watches will only appeal to a niche demographic. 

Also, just as tablets primarily augment notebooks, smart watches may well turn out to be one more computing device we carry with us rather than displace any that will continue to be used. They will also likely connect to the Internet and other devices.

Smart watches are but one of a number of so-called wearable devices (e.g. Google Glass) that market research firms and industry observers expect to gain in popularity in the next several years.

(Stay on top of the latest Android and iPad news, reviews and trends by subscribing to the free TabTimes for Android or TabTimes for iPad newsletters).

David Needle is Editor of TabTimes and based in Silicon Valley

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  • John Swain
    1 year 2 months ago

    With the advent of flexible screens, there's a strong possibility that wearable devices will emerge as a marketable niche.

    I foresee a strong demand among professionals who desire to read a message discreetly without resorting to the rude and disruptive gesture of pulling out a cellphone and reading the message from a teenager wanting to know what is for dinner, while in the middle of a meeting.

    I'm not sure that the "Dick Tracy" look will be desirable, except for possibly the "Sheldons" among us.

  • PatrickPierra
    1 year 3 months ago
    At first sight, due to their small screen and their mobility factor, smart watches could be much more of a replacement for phones than tablets.

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