wearables

The wearables market has a problem: despite an increase in consumer and investor attention over the last few years, many products available today are abandoned shortly after purchase.

The Guardian reported yesterday that many consumers are trying to rid themselves of their Galaxy Gear smartwatches just months after receiving them with their smartphone purchase. Frustrated owners are taking to eBay, private noticeboards, and other avenues to sell the not-so-smart watches they have no desire to use despite near-constant reminders that wearable products are going to be big as soon as everyone gets over the stigma of wearing a computer.

Samsung’s inability to get consumers excited about a product that it’s literally giving away shows the wearable market’s larger problem: the products available today aren’t that good. They’re exciting in theory, largely thanks to decades of movies and television shows featuring wrist-borne computers capable of performing all kinds of tasks, but disappointing in reality.

Reviewers at Slate, the New York Times, and Engadget have all noted the limitations of most smartwatches in recent months. Fitness trackers — which are almost indistinguishable from other smartwatches — have received better reviews but are often abandoned by their owners. Endeavour Partners reported in January that more than half of American consumers “who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it” and that one-third abandoned their devices within six months of receiving them. Wearables just aren’t sticking with consumers.

Reactions from around the Web

Business Insider writes about the wearables’ fragmentation problem:

There has been a flurry of wearables launches in the past year, including the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the Pebble, and the Explorer version of Google Glass. But there’s still a lack of apps in many of these devices’ ecosystems, and way too much platform fragmentation.

NextMarket Insights analyst Michael Wolf tells Fortune that wearables could become bigger than tablets (so far as market size goes, anyway) but relies on the term’s vagueness to do so:

Wearables has the potential from units sold as a category to be bigger than tablets. It is a much more expansive category. ‘Wearables’ could be VR headsets. It could be a watch. It could be something on your hip or technology in your clothing. The hurdles to get in on this market are low, so there is going to be serious expansion of the category over the next decade. Yes, that overall pie is going to get a lot bigger.

Pando weighs in

I wrote in September 2013 that calling the Galaxy Gear a smartwatch is a disservice to the word “smart”:

The Galaxy Gear is simply an expensive accessory with limited functionality and an even more limited battery that won’t ship with support for Samsung’s flagship smartphone. Though, of course, many of the same complaints — minus the lack of support for a flagship smartphone, of course — were levied against the original iPhone, which ended up re-defining the smartphone industry.

The Galaxy Gear might not deserve to join the ranks of the Tiddy Bear, Tinkles the Toilet Cat, or canisters of spray-on hair in the definitive list of the stupidest products (of all time!) but, at least for now, calling it a ‘smart’ product seems charitable at best.

James Robinson summarized the issues facing the crowded wearables market in March:

Outside of health there’s been a lot of noise about putting computers on our eyes and wrists.Samsung claims to have sold 800,000 smart watches in 2013, although it massaged these numbers by bundling the watch with its Galaxy 4 and there was some contention whether this represented the amount shipped to stores or actual sales data. Last year was supposed to be the year of the smart watch. Only two million sold. Details are being filled in about the long-mythical iWatch but the functional benefit of the smart watch over a phone – it is just as rude and takes almost as long to look at either in the middle of a conversation – hasn’t been shown, period. And of course, no wearables roundup would be complete without reference to Google Glass and the tensions over privacy and whether this is standard early adopter angst, or the beginning of genuine pushback.

Later that month, I wrote that Google’s Android Wear platform might finally offer some hope:

Google is poised to address [the issues facing the wearables market] by offering a platform on which manufacturers can build devices that allow wearers to ask questions of Google’s ever-expanding Knowledge Graph, control their smartphones or television sets, and easily access their digital lives. (That’s assuming that the company delivers on all of its promises, of course, which is a slight gamble.) Doing all of those things without requiring you to identify as a ‘Glasshole’ as you attempt to figure out when it’s appropriate to wear the controversial Google Glass headset is an added bonus.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]