September 8, 2014 by Bill Johnson
On Tuesday, Apple is expected join a long list of companies trying to sell smart watches. So far, people haven’t been impressed by the bulky futuristic devices.
Every tech company and timepiece maker, it seems, is either selling smart watches or planning to. But so far, the public isn’t buying.
On Tuesday, Apple AAPL -0.82% is expected to become the latest to push into smart watches, essentially tiny computers people wear on their wrists for checking email, tracking how far they jog and, of course, telling time. If so, it would be the highest-profile entry into the market and a huge affirmation of its potential.
But smart watches, at least until now, have been a tough sell because of their clunky designs, short battery lives and limited capabilities. Although described as the next big thing in technology, the public has mostly stood by while manufacturers furiously try to refine their devices to make them more appealing.
It doesn’t help that many smart watches are bulky to the point of resembling mobile phones with a wristband attached. Anyone who wears one risks being cited by the fashion police.
“I can’t imagine my wife or daughter wearing any smart watch I’ve seen so far,” said Ken Hyers, director of research at Strategy Analytics, a market research firm focused on technology. “For many people, a watch is jewelry, and most I’ve seen so far would dwarf a lady’s wrist.”
Last year, smart watch makers shipped just 1.9 million devices, according to Strategy Analytics. In the first half of this year, they shipped another 1.7 million. It’s small potatoes when compared to the huge demand for wearable computers expected in the near future, according to a report by Credit Suisse. In the next three to five years, people will spend $30 billion to $50 billion on devices worn on the body including smart watches, Internet-connected glasses and fitness trackers, the investment bank said.
Samsung, Sony SNE -0.39% , LG Electronics, Motorola, Qualcomm QCOM -0.02% , Pebble, Meta Watch, SilverPlus, and Neptune are just some of the tech companies to introduce smart watches. Traditional watchmakers like Timex and Swatch are also planning to do so.
Apple, of course, has a stellar track record in creating blockbuster devices. The iPhone and iPad are prime examples. Apple didn’t invent either product category. What it did was use its innovation and design skills to leap ahead of the competition. In tackling smart watches, Apple would be following a similar strategy. By entering the market relatively late, it can learn from the mistakes of others.
A smart watch would be the first entirely new product line for Apple since introducing the iPad four years ago. It would also be the first new product developed under CEO Tim Cook, who took the helm three years ago and is under pressure to show that he, like his predecessor, Steve Jobs, can innovate and market new big selling products.