Conclusion: the end of smartwatches?

Conclusion: the end of smartwatches?

This is our final conclusion in a series of blogs that aims to give you some insights in the future of the smartwatch. In the first blog we have outlined the situation in the smartwatch market according to analist expert Gartner. After conducting a small survey among 20 smartwatch users around us, we got our hands on valuable insights in user experience. We summed those insights up in a positive summary as well as a list of highly needed improvements. We hope that this smartwatch series provides some insights in how we and some users are seeing the potential of smartwatches. In this final piece we add our own opinion about the future of the smartwatch. Don't shoot us if you don't agree ;) If we look to what our (basic) research shows, we see that 68% of the respondents believe that the smartwatch is here to stay. They consider the smartwatch 'compatible with the Internet of Things' and a 'new touch point'. The remainder believes that the smartwatch is 'under-delivering' due to 'too limited functionalities' and that 'it can never be as useful as the smartphone'.

Now we'd like to share our vision on the future of the smartwatch and will slide forward our own forward-looking experts: Bart Fussel, CEO of aFrogleap, and Sam Warnaars, and our in-house 'futurist' and Digital producer at aFrogleap.

"Do we believe the smartwatch hype?"

In the last few years, the watch always has had all the ingredients to become a new hype. The watch has a history of being a geeky vision of how future technology would look like (think Star Trek). In the early 90's, the watch has had a phase where this vision became a bit closer when the digital (calculator) watches became a hype. In the current time and space you can find a legacy industry (mainly from Switzerland) that hasn't seriously innovated for decades. All these factors together are a recipe for disruption. The market has been ready.
Bart's view on this is that at the same time, key potential components like batteries, touchscreens and software have rapidly evolved towards a moment where it could become feasible to use them in small devices like watches. A leading innovator like Apple started to move in the field. Which triggered the likes of big players like Google and Samsung to move, but also small, more agile players like Pebble. All the elements for disruption and thus the hype were there.
"There is definitely a future for the smartwatch. The market is still extremely young. Users start realizing the actual potential. There is enough criticism to create realism."
Alternatively, Sam says to 'never believe the hype, because smartwatches won’t change the world in the ways many people promised'. 'Smartwatches of today simply are the external output/input devices for our phones'. They notify us about the most relevant information from our phone and serve as minimalistic input for some of the interactions we have with our devices. Input through active interactions like selecting a response or passive input by letting it monitor the environment of the user with one of the sensors.
"As it turns out most smartwatches still are most valued for doing what smartwatches are best at: showing the time."

"Will the smartwatch become the future?"

Bart finds this question tough. 'Smartwatches carry a lot of potential, but to call the current devices the future...? We think that the question is not if it becomes the future, but how big a role the smartwatch will play in our near future. There are a few key variables that will define the size of this role. One of these drivers is the evolution of the components that are needed to improve the experience. If these components keep improving rapidly, this could have a serious impact on the potential role of the watch.'

In our user feedback summaries in this series there is some serious component related feedback. Mostly centred around the current battery life, watch size, and for some, the screen quality. They are at the best perceived as limited and not ideal. The seamlessness between the watch and the phone is also not yet at its optimal state with bluetooth chips and battery life as the guilty components. This brings us at the second variable. Old style watches are immensely personal. From fashion statement to family history piece. Currently smartwatches miss both lifetime potential (it won’t last that long) and higher forms of personalisation in colours, styles, versions, manufacturers, etc.

The other variable within personalisation is whether it can get even closer to the user. Can it become the connection between the body and your personal digital world. This means adding more sensors, gathering more data, and creating more body indexing insights. If the products in the market can seriously improve on this there is a higher potential for mass market adaptation. This could be the difference between a 10% market adaptation in 2020 or a smartphone kind of adaptation (think 50% and up).

Sam is pitching in ons this: 'Here is why I think it’s interesting: Just like the classic watch, more than any other accessory or item of clothing, can serve as an expression of a persons personality. This is not yet so much true for the current smartwatches. These watches are at a mass customisation level at best, but as it becomes cheaper to add the functionality that makes our watch ’smart’, we should see a more diverse offering of models and types that do support expressing a bit of the personality of the wearer. This expressive function of a watch combined with the intimacy between a watch and its owner makes it an interesting category.'

"Since the mobile phone, no other piece of connected consumer technology has been this close to its owner before. In the age of personalization, this relation is very important for companies, therefore I am sure that we are only at the early stages of connected watch/wrist products."

"What will be the future?"

Bart starts of with a limitation of the scope to be able to answer this question. 'If I limit it to the field of smartwatches. I think the basis of the future is mass sensoring of all things around us through the watch and through all sensors around you that communication with your watch. The internet of things is the mostly used overarching name. This will become the backbone of all data gathering and all insights. It will increase up to a point where most users don’t know any better. Everything is measured automatically. Wearables will do that for humans. Smartwatches will be a part of that group of sensors.'

On top of all this data gathering the seamless experience for the user will become the bigger challenge. The data players will have one goal: create real-time relevance out of this huge pile of data within the right context of a unique user. Mistakes in these experience will become more rare. Up to a point where the user will only realise what is happening silently in the background when a sensor is not functioning, or an experience is not implemented correctly. Sam sees a similar future that is more of the same innovation happening now: "More of our devices relying on being connected in order to be perceived useful. More devices that will seek a more personal relation by demanding being near or always being on. More personal data feeding back into the services that we use and less attention spent on specific devices. We are getting used to things to just work. We don’t want to spend generous amounts of our time on tuning our tools (except for a few geeks of course;)). If the increasing simplicity for end users is an indicator, it will be likely that smaller form factors and increasingly autonomous services will take care of ever more small mundane tasks we do these days."

With this series we've come to a conclusion and we hope that it has given you some insight in the future of smartwatches and it's potential. If you have any questions, just drop them in our Facebook comments or on Twitter!