Smartwatches: How long until you need one?

We look at the early smartwatch attempts to try and work out how long it will be before you really need one...

Smartwatches have arrived. But, don't be fooled by the big billboards and flashy TV ads, the technology is still in its infancy.

With most people in the western world owning a smartphone and, as a result, demand declining, manufacturers are trying to convince users they need the ultimate accessory. But is this really the case?

Aside from the obvious like telling the time, smartwatches do offer a range of features. They allow you to see notifications/calls from another device (primarily a smartphone) as well as tracking key health metrics like the steps walked, your heart-rate and sleep patterns.

Some key questions remain though. The most obvious being: Are they really needed at present?

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Nick Dillon, a senior analyst at Ovum, thinks there is still much work to be done.

"Most smartwatches have applications that are used to push through notifications from a smartphone. Although it's quite addictive having this feature, getting a text message sent to your wrist is not essential," he explains.

"There is no killer app and manufacturers need to think carefully about the interface."

It's safe to say the best thing about Samsung's first generation Gear was the advert.

Early generations

The smartwatch concept is not new. Casio's Calculator watch was introduced in the 70s and went through a number of revisions including a cult 90s model that allowed users to change TV channels. The firm's G-Shock models are also available with Bluetooth functionality and can be synced with other devices.

In 2014, it's the technology manufacturers that are trying to ignite interest in wearables. At the launch of its SmartWatch 2 event in mid-2013, Sony claimed to be the market leader, boasting of 500,000 unit sales worldwide. Although it didn't specify the time period in which those sales were generated. 

The biggest player to enter the market to-date has been Samsung, launching its Galaxy Gear range at the back-end of 2013.

To capitalise on its dominant position in the smartphone market, the Korean firm ended up rushing out its Galaxy Gear device, which was critically panned.

Samsung tried to put a positive spin on the disastrous launch, claiming 800,000 units shipped in two months. However, Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner, told IT Pro that actual sales to end users were estimated to be between 25,000 and 50,000 units.

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With Best Buy also reporting a 30 per cent return rate amongts buyers, it's likely the best thing about Samsung's first generation Gear was the nostalgia filled advert:

Fast forward six months and Samsung has given it another crack by releasing the Gear Fit, Gear Neo and Gear 2 devices. It's also switched from the Android operating system to fellow open-source platform Tizen as Samsung continues to experiment in this area.

The accolade for most popular smartwatch of 2013 went to the Pebble smartwatch - a project originating on Kickstarter. Raising more than $10 million on the crowd-funding website, 400,000 units have been sold and there are over 1,000 apps available for the smartwatch. Whilst it's not perfect, the fact end users invested such a significant amount to get the product off the ground shows the potential of this market.

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