Smartwatches are getting better, more useful, more compelling

Apple Watch, Google's acquiring Fitbit and Xiaomi's new apple-watch-like, Mi Watch

Up until 2018, I sat on the fence about buying a high-end smartwatch. Such a purchase would have felt like a waste of good money for little return in terms of features. Sure, it would have felt okay to own one. But was it really worth the cost?

A good friend pointed out that it's almost never a bird thing to play by Lackland's Laws. Never to be first, never to be last, and most importantly, thou must not volunteer for anything. Except if it doesn't cost you money and it's informative.

Thusly, I stuck to cheap fitness trackers. You know, just for the feel of what the future could feel like. Not to mention that I like to have something on my wrist. Mostly a watch or something watch-ish. I did better; I have been following the smartwatch industry with keen interest.

The Apple watch and Fitbit have been the kings of the industry. Fitbit was the first to enter industry in 2007 and reigned supreme for 8 years.

By 2015, the market became saturated with cheaper alternatives. Saturated not because the market was already mature, but rather because it was still a niche market.

Outside the world of nerds, fitness enthusiasts, and early adopters, fitness trackers didn't provide a compelling reason for the common folk to consider buying. In all fairness, the industry was young and with time, new incentives would be created and won over.

In the same year, Apple, which up until that point had been busy perfecting its iPhone devices, made a play for the market. As with everything that Apple does (well, not all but most), the first Apple Watch won some love. So much so that in the 2nd quarter of 2015, it captured roughly 75% of the market and continued to dominate over the following years.

Four years later, Apple Watch enjoys a significant lead in the market. Samsung and their copycat kin huawei have tried to take a slice of the market. To date, their combined market has not been able to break above 15%.

As in everything else, magic is needed to win over the hearts of people. As the naysayers continued to sing the song "it's a gimmick, a fancy fashion accessory", Apple gradually injected its magic on their watch. Thus cementing their product lead.

The Apple Watch Series 4 introduction in 2018 drove a heart right into the spiteful hearts of detractors and vindicated the faith of fanboys. A year later, the Apple Watch Series 5 has cemented that love.

Enter 2019, Fitbit has asserted its values by winning over the attention of the algorithm king, google. Maybe Alphabet can use it's AI superiority and wealth of data to help Fitbit regain its position in the industry.

If all goes well, Google could use its muscle to provide android users a watch that is equally as good as what iOS users already have. Perhaps even better than that. In terms of software, there's a lot to look forward to. In terms of hardware, that would be hard to say.

The copycat from china, Xiaomi, has already unveiled an Apple Watch clone for the android ecosystem; Mi Watch. Although Mi Watch physically looks like an Apple Watch, its OS seems to have been inspired by Google's Wear OS.

Perhaps there's something 'innovative' being inspired by what already works well and creating alternatives for neglected markets. Especially when you can do that and sell it for less. This sort of competition lits a fire under the status quo. Industry players are incentivized to create more value for the same price. More often for a lesser price.

How are smartwatches useful today?

Smartwatches are more than mere watches. They're computers on your wrist. They are to the phone what the phone was to laptops and desktops. Perhaps this tweet puts the idea in better context

As iPhone becomes Mac, Apple Watch becomes iPhone, AirPods become Watch. :)
But I’m not sure what apps will look like by then. Ambient computing changes the model.

Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie) \~ October 31, 2019

The extent to which a smartwatch is useful depends on the particular watch that you're using. Some have more features than others. Some are better at certain things than all their competitors.

For example, there's no shortage of reports of how the Apple Watch has repeatedly saved lives. These stories are all over tweeter and the wider worldwide web. This is a result of its fall detection and heartbeat tracking features. In that regard, the Apple Watch clearly shines.

Yet there are good things to be said about Fitbit a device, for example. Specifically, Fitbit Versa. It can be used with both ios and android which is a good thing for folks who are not in the iOS ecosystem. After all, Fitbit Versa can do most of the things that an Apple watch can. In some cases, it can do better.

There's a tonne of information about what a smartwatch can do. Therefore, rather than spin the details that are already documented, here is a concise list of the possibilities.

  1. Health tracking e.g irregular heartbeats, sleeping patterns, women health (menstrual cycles)
  2. Exercise tracking
  3. Making payments with technologies such as FitbitPay, Apple Pay ...
  4. Streaming music from streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music,
  5. Answering calls, viewing and responding to text messages.

In what ways could smartwatches improve?

Unlike smartphones, smartwatches have tiny screens and tiny batteries. Consequently, it's difficult to show as much detail on a smartwatch than you would on a phone. The small batteries also mean that they drain faster. Thus battery life somewhat sucks.

Predictably, smartwatches will only get thinner with time. They'll also require more components, in the form of sensors and chips to handle more complex tasks. This means the tiny real estate will not magically increase.

However, industry players may develop better chips, better power consumption. On the display side, they'll need to rethink how information is displayed and consumed.

If we're being honest, it's unlikely that smartwatches will replace some of the uses of a phone. However, they can soon start to do most of the things that a phone can. The result would be that you can do more on your watch.

On the other hand, it's possible that smartwatches are only a detour to something else. Maybe AR devices? Maybe implants? Who knows 🤷🏻‍♂️?😂