Watch watch: industry soothsayers are getting excited, but what sort of wrist action are we actually seeing here?
The smartwatch/iWatch (whatever) phenomenon has been a bit of a slow train coming. The reason, I suspect, is that the prime perpetrators (Apple, Google, Samsung) know that the first serious, branded examples out of the shoot will be a real gamble.
Here's the nightmare. The lights are down, the music is blaring to a crescendo, the spotlight exposes the object on the stage and the video wall shows it in all its glory and... somebody laughs. In fact they sneer.
Fact is, these objects say things about their wearer/user. Yes, all wearables say things, but watches shout them. A Rolex (for example) says "I've made it big time" a Breitling also says "I've made it" but adds, "I'm sporty and often dive to 1000 feet," and on it goes.
What will an iWatch say? Possibly that "I spend far too much time obsessing over my gadgets so please don't engage me in conversation - I'm sure to answer my phone in mid-flow."
Which is why Apple's appointment of Angela Ahrendts (see - Apple hires Burberry CEO to head its retail operation) is its most important hire since Jonathan Ives and probably comes in a nick of time. Apple is widely thought to be prepping an iWatch and her perspective has probably already been crucial in the way the Cupertino giant navigates its way forward.
Apple's not alone. Naturally Google is in there as well (as is Samsung) and Google is today the subject of a watch rumour. According to Time Tech (and other outlets) Google has sprinted to the finish line and is ready to launch a Smartwatch which will be able to do great things with Google Now, which the report says "has become a more capable virtual assistant over the last year. Google has steadily added new features, such as public transit cards, reminders and boarding passes. Having that kind of information on your wrist makes a lot of sense, as long as the hardware is lightweight, low-powered and not too expensive."
Yes. It all makes sense from the technology, geeky point of view. The distinct move to larger 'phablet' style phones might also be grist to the mill for companion watches - rather than drag a hefty 6 inch screen from an inside pocket you can ignore an urgent message with a quick glance at your wrist. Geek-wise it's all there. Fashion-wise? Not so sure.
The number-crunchers aren't in any doubt though. Right on cue a report from US researcher iGR, says Smartwatch sales in the U.S. are sure to grow at a CAGR of 195 per cent over the next 5 years... which headlines well but is over five years and starts in 2012 (low base number).
Nevertheless, iGR is confident enough to see the watch helping take up the slack of a maturing smartphone market. It points out that dozens of companies are now operating in the general 'wearable technology' category which includes smart glasses, fitness and health tracking devices as well as smartwatches.
Indeed they do. A myriad of often rather geeky-looking devices already clog the 'smartwatch' pages on Amazon including examples from Sony and Samsung, none of which has so far 'taken off' in the way that market-watchers expect.
So what's going to change?
According to iGR, the market is waiting for tightly-integrated (with smarphones) watches from the likes of Google and Apple to show up.
"The smartwatch market is still in its infancy, and a variety of vendors have recently launched new products, many of which function with both iOS and Android smartphones. iGR believes that as the market matures, more smartwatches will be built exclusively for a particular platform. iGR estimates that total smartwatch sales will grow at a CAGR of almost 195 percent between 2012 and 2017, but sales of devices that function on both iOS and Android will only grow at a CAGR of 48 per cent."
Well, perhaps. But it won't be because of seamless integration - it will be the likes of Angela Ahrendts making the things desirable.