Prior to their introduction, smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Gear were touted as being the next big thing in tech – the gadgets which would follow in the footsteps of smartphones and tablets to become a true consumer craze. The reality has been far from rosy, however, with manufacturers struggling to boost sales to levels which match other wearables, let alone mobile phones. So will the smartwatch die off this year or can it continue to cling on or even gain traction?
One of the main reasons that smartwatches have failed to catch on in a big way is that they are fighting a battle on multiple fronts, because not only are they attempting to replace traditional timepieces on the wrists of consumers, but they are also aiming to oust other digital wearables that have become popular in recent years.
The Fitbit range of pseudo-smart wrist wear has become one of the biggest selling brands in this segment. While most fitness bands are nowhere near as powerful or functional as an Apple Watch or Galaxy Gear, they have the advantage thanks to being significantly cheaper and still capable of offering a number of solid features. Even Fitbit itself is sailing through rough waters at the moment, with sales down by a fifth in the final quarter of 2016, and six per cent of the workforce facing the axe, according to Fortune magazine. So the future for all wearables, not just smartphones, is looking questionable.
Aside from the highly competitive nature of the marketplace into which smartwatches have attempted to embed themselves, the other reason that they may become extinct this year is that the manufacturers behind the major devices in this category have yet to give consumers a good enough reason to buy them. Most smartwatches remain entirely reliant on being tethered to a smartphone in order to offer any kind of useful functionality, meaning that you cannot take them out and about without a secondary mobile device in tow. Battery life is another bugbear, with smartwatches lasting for a day or two before they need recharging, they are far less practical than a traditional timepiece and are yet another gadget that needs its own power adapter.
That is not to say that smartwatch manufacturers are not making efforts to raise awareness about these devices and attempt to win over a mainstream audience. Apple’s main tactic is to present the Watch as a fashion accessory, rolling out new wristbands and customisation options that have less to do with functionality than they do with looking good. For many prospective buyers, this will simply not be enough to justify the steep asking price associated with most high end smartwatches. A smartphone does so much more and is something that people already own, so insisting that they make another purchase is too much for manufacturers to ask. Unless serious innovations are made this year, 2017 may spell the end for smartwatches.