The next must-have gadget could come in the form of a fashion accessory. But this may be a case where it’s wise to not immediately follow the trend.
Smartwatches, smart buy?
More manufacturers are working on wearable tech, but it may not be time yet for smartwatches and Google glasses. Kelli Grant reports.
Many of the big players in tech have “smart” wearable devices in the works. Google on Tuesday released details of its forthcoming Google Glasses, revealing that the smartphone-syncing specs will boast a 5-megapixel camera for photos and 720p resolution for video, as well as 12 gigabytes of memory for apps and content. Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft probably has a touch-enabled watch-style device in the works, something Apple is also reportedly experimenting with. The basic gist: The product would be worn on the wrist and would be capable of syncing with your phone, to notify you of incoming calls, texts and emails, as well as other phone or app alerts like Facebook messages and calendar appointments. Presumably, it could also tell time.
Research firm Gartner expects wearable tech to be a $10 billion industry by 2016, but it could be another year before consumers can buy either those Google Glasses or a smartwatch from Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -2.26% or Microsoft /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -3.16% . “They’re all rumors until somebody actually announces and ships a product,” says Stephen Baker, vice president and senior industry analyst for NPD Group.
That’s not to say there aren’t smartwatches by other manufacturers already on the market. Roughly a dozen were on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, with a few already available — including the $130 Cookoo and the $299-plus i’m Watch . Two more options, the $150 Pebble and $249-and-up Martian , are available for preorder now for expected delivery by May. And there are dozens more dedicated fitness trackers that have ties to the category. Motorola’s wrist-worn Motoactv — a $250 touch-screen device that monitors physical activity and plays MP3s, and also displays calls, texts and calendar alerts from a linked Android smartphone — has been around since late 2011.
But, Baker says, consumers who wait until a bigger tech company comes out with a smartwatch, or at least until there’s a wider array available, will probably get a better deal. Right now, there’s no clear expectation of what a smartwatch should do, which makes their relative value hard to gauge. “’Smartwatch’ is about as dumb a name as we could come up with,” he says. “It limits people’s expectations.” Some devices do lean toward being watches with extra features; others are more versatile but happen to have clock apps. For example, a few offer light-up icons for an incoming call, while others display the caller’s name, or even let you pick up the call via Bluetooth.
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To be sure, those features alone are more than enough for some users. Consumers who buy fitness trackers often don’t use many of the functions, or abandon tracking altogether if the device proves complex, says Shirley Archer, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. “Some products today actually have too many features,” she says.
Early adopters looking for “cool factor” may find their interests served either way, says Donna Sturgess, the president and founding partner of research firm Buyology. “People adopt things early because it connects them with cool,” she says. But brand name also plays a factor. Waiting for a Microsoft smartwatch could be questionable: It “does not score highly on ‘cool’ as a brand,” says Sturgess. Google and Apple rate higher; however, even the current offerings can have some cache if the product is innovative enough. “Every time you launch a new product, you have an opportunity to reinvent your brand,” she says.