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Sales of wearable electronics are projected to grow from US$8 billion in 2015 to US$20 billion in 2016. Naturally, companies like Samsung, Apple and non-tech companies like Ralph Lauren and Swatch are jostling for a piece of the pie. For smartphones and tablets, despite the mind-boggling array of brands available to consumers, the operating system (OS) is dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and for computers, Microsoft’s Windows.
For passive wearable electronics like Jawbone’s Up3 (fitness trackers), the choice of OS does not matter, as any meaningful data is synchronised and displayed on the wearer’s smartphone. For autonomous wearable electronics, the OS market is exploding, with Baidu’s DuWear the latest entrant, joining Google, Samsung, LG , Pebble and Apple and many others running their proprietary OS for autonomous wearable electronics. Baidu (the dominant search engine in China) is trying to push its DuWear much like Google did with its Android Wear and offering the software to different manufacturers. In a bid to boost the popularity of its new OS, Baidu made it even easier for consumers, who can now download and flash onto products from different manufacturers like Motorola, LG and Sony.
Window’s Achilles heel in its inability to break the duopoly of Android and iOS is the dire lack of apps in its Windows Store. Hence, the smartphones category is dominated by smartphones running on Android (77%) and iOS (14%) in 2015. iOS is exclusive to Apple and consequently, other manufacturers are only left with Android.
The current generation of wearable electronics (in particular; autonomous wearable electronics) is largely dependent on smartphones, serving as notification and simple displays for text messages and e-mails. Essentially, wearable electronics is an extension of the smartphone. While most manufacturers (Asus, Motorola) are depending on Android Wear as the de facto OS in order to save development costs and reduce time-to-market, companies like Pebble and Samsung proved that the choice of OS is not as important, a marked departure from tablets and smartphones.
Pebble, a start-up that broke Kickstarter’s record for the largest fund raised, twice, with Pebble Watch and Pebble Time, was one of the first companies to launch an autonomous wearable electronics device in 2013. Pebble had to develop its own proprietary OS as there was no readily-available OS available, as Android Wear was only released in early 2014. One of its key selling points (other than week-long battery life) is that Pebble supports smartphones running on both iOS and Android. With sales of smartphones projected to exceed 1.3 billion units in 2015, Pebble’s support for smartphones running on both operating systems allows the fledgling company to increase its target customer base substantially.
Sales of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ continue to drive Apple, underpinning record-breaking quarterly financial results and share gains at the expense of the leading player in smartphones, Samsung. Apple users spent an average of $119 online over the Thanksgiving holiday season, 24% higher than Android users, according to a report by IBM. Other manufacturers could be tempted to develop their own proprietary OS to cater to both iOS and Android. Other than increasing the customer base and trying to capture the higher spending iOS users, manufacturers are also keen to avoid being overly-dependent on a single company (Google’s Android) and allowing Google to reap other potential revenues from apps and services generated from wearable electronics.