MWC and Android Wear 2.0 alone aren't enough to save wearables

MWC and Android Wear 2.0 alone aren't enough to save wearables

A few years ago, when the first activity and fitness tracker hardware launched, it created a buzz around a new market of wearables that's gone on to spawn entire new categories of devices we probably wouldn't have imagined. We're looking at you, Bluetooth smart trackers for dogs. Fast-forward to 2017 and people's love affair with activity tracking and smartwatches seems to be waning.

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Current trends are underwhelming. Even in spite of Mobile World Congress this year.

A quick market history lesson

Early adopters were quick to jump aboard and the excitement of a new category of devices certainly enamored the press. That perhaps contributed towards analyst and retailer expectations being set higher than they should have been for nascent products. 

In 2015, (my almost namesake) Ben Wood at CCS Insight predicted that the wearables market could be worth $25 billion globally by 2019. However, just over a year later, in December last year, eMarketer cut its growth forecast for the market as a whole by 35 percent.

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The Huawei Fit scored surprisingly well in our review. / © NextPit

That still means that at least 25 percent growth was predicted, but it's a long way from the 60 percent that was initially expected. Cutting growth forecasts so heavily just a few years after a category breaks through is a troubling sign all around. Slowing growth suggests that it could turn to no growth soon enough. 

Cutting growth forecasts so heavily just a few years after a category breaks through is a troubling sign all around

It's a problem you can see born out by the companies involved - Fitbit just cut 6 percent of its workforce following a disappointing Christmas sales period. It's not alone either, with Jawbone reportedly considering dropping its line of consumer wearables to focus on the B2B healthcare market.

It's a similar story for smartwatches too - they haven't found a truly convincing reason to get the average person to part with their cash. In fact, due to the relative expensive of a smartwatch, rather than a generic fitness tracker band, the bottom has fallen out of smartwatches even faster.

According to IDC figures for Q3 2016 (just one year after the launch of the Apple Watch), there was a drop of 51.6% (to 2.7 million devices) in comparison to the same period in 2015. Just for comparison, the wearables market excluding smartwatches grew just three percent in the same quarter, again according to IDC.

Stop with the numbers already! 

On an anecdotal level, I have 2 activity trackers (both Jawbone) and there's also a Misfit Shine somewhere in the house - exactly where is a different question. 

I also have two smartwatches (an early Moto 360 and a Samsung S2 Classic) and used to own a first-gen Samsung Galaxy Gear. You remember, the ones that had an entirely impractical (and possibly even slightly creepy) camera in the wrist strap? Novel, yes, but also ridiculous.

Of the four devices I have access to on a daily basis, guess how many I wear?

Yep. Zero. 

In fact, there are periods of time where I all but forget they exist, see them, wear them for a day or two, and then toss them aside again. And that's a problem for the market as a whole; they're not essential to your everyday routine and are hampered by the same battery life problem as phones.

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The Samsung Galaxy S2 and S2 Classic / © NextPit

People that buy activity trackers and ultimately end up disappointed or disinterested with them are unlikely to be quick to jump back into the market and buy another one, and for smartwatches the challenge is even harder. They're great activity trackers, and can do some arguably useful things, but they're nowhere close to essential. In the non-tracking functions, they're not even really all that much more convenient than just using your phone in many cases.

People that buy activity trackers and ultimately end up disappointed or disinterested with them are unlikely to be quick to jump back into the market and buy another one

That's not to say they won't ever become essential or find that 'killer use', but they've failed so far, and other ways of tracking activity are already starting to break out, like the Kenzen smart patch that can track your health and movement. 

With two LG smartwatches unveiled alongside it are anything to judge by, consumer feedback isn't being taken seriously enough. The two most common complaints from device owners are battery life and the lack of them fulfilling a vital function in their lives - unless using a medical-grade device to monitor a health condition. 

Until these two problems are solved, the smartwatch and activity tracker markets will ultimately withering away and become an interesting side-note in the history of the road to The Next Big Thing.

Do you plan on buying a smartwatch or activity tracker? Let us know in the comments below! 

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  • Jeffrey Todd Mar 7, 2017 Link to comment

    Android Wear will progress as many other Google products and services: slowly and surely. Eventually manufacturers will produce decent looking and capable devices at sub $100 prices in addition to do it all devices for $40. And every where in between.

    They won't make more money than Apple, but will dominate volume.

  • ljhaye Feb 22, 2017 Link to comment

    There's a clear disconnect between the wearables and Android Wear. Many people assume that because Android Wear is struggling that all wearable are struggling. Apple Watch sold 6 million units as a " struggling product" and Samsung Tizen watches sold 813,000 units. Android Wear is lumped with "others" according to IDC. The reality is that outside of Samsung's product Android does not have a true hardware platform to show the performance of Android. Their is no hero hardware devices for other types of Android hardware. Maybe in the future Pixel will be that but right its just a phone and a disappointing tablet. We bad mouth Apple in the Android community but i am envious of their hardware cohesion that makes their ecosystem feel like an ecosystem. Android Wear feels a lot like Android Tablets and that not a good thing. Wearables will be owned by Apple if Android OEM's and Google don't figure out a hero device and developing a cohesive experience.

    Apple Wearables strategy: a colleague of mine works for Apple and has made it clear that they view wearables as a PAN (personal area network) with w1 chip and acting as a thin client to your iPhone. What the hell is Google's strategy? The fact they are struggling against Pebble and Tizen is embarrassing.

  • Naz Hussain Feb 18, 2017 Link to comment

    Battery life is the single biggest factor in my opinion. I own the Fossil Q Marshal and don't get any where near the 24 hours I'm supposed to and it also takes far too long to charge (over 5 hours). Solve this issue (5-7 day standby) and sales will increase dramatically. Everything else in this article is a moot point. People are not stupid. They know their watch isn't a phone. But it's still good to have a smart device on your wrist that can do so much else besides telling the time.

  • Pete Paxton Feb 18, 2017 Link to comment

    I suggest anyone reading this article to take it with a grain of salt or better yet strictly as an opinion. I had the original gear watch and then the gear 2 smartwatch. I liked the camera. It certainly isn't for showing on a large tablet or printing 8x10's. But when my wife and I would go hiking at a place where there was water to wade through and would often get wet, the IP67 rating came in very handy. I would take pictures of our hike on my watch leaving my Note 5 behind. As soon as I was in range of my smartphone the pics automatically uploaded. Again the pics aren't perfect but they are plenty good enough for showing our experince on my phone. The one function I never used was the heart rate sensor. But that doesn't mean I think it's ridiculous because I personally didn't use it. I now have the Zenwatch 2 and I wear it everyday. As a PE teacher I can leave my phone on my desk while I'm in the gym with my kids. I can still get all my notifications and even use it to play music in the gym. I also use the timer, stopwatch, and other functions during my class. My watch is absolutely essential for me. The bottom line is that maybe you'd never use a camera on your watch or perhaps a smartwatch isn't essential for you, but I know plenty of people including myself that would never go back to a regular watch. One last thing. I got my Zenwatch 2 for $78. It was refurbished but according to the site, it was only returned because the person who bought it couldn't use it with their iphone. And the battery lasts me two days easily. I think the biggest reason for people not buying a smartphone is the price. A Huawei Honor 6X is $249 for an entire smartphone. I just don't know how apple or some of these other companies are justifying smartwatches over $200.

    • Ben Woods Feb 19, 2017 Link to comment

      It was indeed just my opinion ;)

  • Sammy Bernard Feb 18, 2017 Link to comment

    Android Wear 2.0 came out 9-10 days ago... to one watch. How could anybody possibly be hyped for that? Hell my moto 360 (2nd gen) is suppose to get the update, that was supposed to come out Fall 2016, within the upcoming weeks... Why would I possibly care or be excited for a delayed firmware update that still doesn't have a release date for me?

    I wear my watch everyday but every 2-3 weeks Google releases an update to the 'Android Wear Companion' app that cause connection issues. Thus another annoyance is born that one doesn't need more so on a commute in NYC (stressful enough).

    As far as I am concerned, I found apps that basically turned my moto 360 running Android 1.0 into a Moto 360 smartphone with Android 2.0 like abilities back in June (2016). Wear Wifi, saved me from Bluetooth issues and saved my phone's battery life. Wear Messages, turned my watch into a text messaging device (with it's own keyboard). Hell they even have Wear Mail, Wear Videos, Wear Photos, Wear Calendar, Wear Documents and a Wear Internet Browser (which is fairly decent). If it wasn't for that one company (Appfour) I would've sold my Moto 360 and just gave up on the whole "Smartwatch" gimmick after Google introduced Android Wear 2.0...gave it a 3 month release date... pushed that release date back...made a developer preview for only 3-ish watches...Apple introduced Apple Watch 2nd gen...pushed the new release date back yet again...Apple released Apple Watch 2nd gen...No news about Android wear 2.0.. AW2G gets updated...Developers announce the new Android wear 2.0 beta version had no real changes from the previous version (months ago).

    When your competition (Apple) is a calendar based "innovative" machine where you know June they will announce something, September will most likely be the release date and they constantly deliver on that time frame; It's hard for the public to give any type of shits as to what your delayed OS has to offer.

  • Kevin Wudtke Feb 17, 2017 Link to comment

    For me, the Pebble Time and Time Steel completely solved the battery issue and did everything that I wanted/needed, even before activity tracking was added. The 7-10 day battery life is still awesome, the always on screen is great and you have the back light if you need it. And the price point was much more attractive than most other options available now. I still wear it every day. If Pebble had stuck with being a watch first, and not added activity tracking and then a heart rate monitor that was supposed to be in the next model, maybe they could have survived. I was looking forward to the Time 2, not for the heart rate monitor, but the bigger screen, and I was really looking forward to the Core, to be able to leave the phone at home sometimes. But alas, Pebble is no more. At least so far, everything seems to still be working. Here's to hoping that Fitbit does something with the portions of Pebble that they bought and role in some of that tech to a new device.

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