Rounding Smartwatches Won’t Make Them Mainstream Products

Wearable electronics and smartwatches in particular are seen as one of the categories with the greatest potential in consumer electronics, especially as growth in tablets and smartphones slows. But, while passive wearable electronics like fitness bracelets FitBit and Jawbone have been gaining mainstream acceptance in developed markets, more capable and expensive autonomous wearable electronics from Samsung, LG and Sony have failed to gain significant sales in 2014. Much of this has been blamed on the obscure aesthetics of smartwatches, most of which had a rectangular-shaped face. A growing number of manufacturers are hoping that creating a product more closely resembling a watch will drive volume sales. But with software optimised for autonomous wearable electronics still in the early stages of development, making these devices useful and driving sales will be difficult in the short run.

Global Volume Sales of Autonomous Wearable Electronics

Source: Euromonitor International

Follow the leader

The Moto 360 – first shown in the spring of 2014, likely launching in the autumn of 2014 – was the first major departure in terms of style, with a round display. The product generated a lot of excitement among tech enthusiasts and bloggers. As we approach IFA 2014 there is a growing number of round smartwatch devices slated for unveiling, but this alone won’t make the product appealing to the general public.

Smarter smartwatches

Passive wearable electronics are essentially miniature wearable sensor arrays with basic memory and connectivity features. Mostly designed to be fitness or activity trackers, the user interacts with the device directly on a very limited basis. One uses a fitness tracker largely by wearing it. Contemporary autonomous wearable electronics are comprised mostly of smart watches that offer some combination of fitness tracking and smartphone notification forwarding functions that are highly reliant on direct user input. A round smartwatch with this feature set appeals to a wider audience than one with less desirable aesthetics. However, this is still really a product for the earliest adopters of technology, for whom wearable electronics are fashion accessories signifying their affinity with technology.

Making an autonomous smartwatch appealing to the general public means simplifying interaction with the device to the level of passive electronics while adding functionality. These devices need to be aware of the user’s surroundings and intentions as well as what all of the other devices around the user are doing and deliver content based on this information with limited direct input from the user.