Amazon launches a fancy marketplace for wearables, but you can't put lipstick on a pig
The wearables market can be summarized with a single phrase: close, but no cigar.
Many of the devices available today offer some interesting features, such as the ability to count steps or vibrate when a text message arrives, but are otherwise unremarkable and unrefined. These devices are expected to become the future of computing, but that future has yet to arrive.
That hasn't stopped Amazon from introducing a new storefront dedicated to the category. It sells everything from smartwatches to wearable computers, has a section dedicated to unreleased products, and includes an "editor's corner" gathering news, reviews, and other wearables-related content. It's at once a marketplace, a classroom, and a research center.
That might be just what the wearables market needs. The category is currently in a similar position as the Internet of Things, which is often heralded as the next big thing even though many consumers don't know why they should care about Internet-connected appliances. Just as retailers like Staples hope to make connected devices more approachable, Amazon is hoping to make wearable products more appealing to people who already have phones and computers.
Perhaps another phrase can apply to this storefront: you can't put lipstick on a pig. Amazon has done an admirable job of collecting all kinds of information about the wearables market, and the products it says are "coming soon" are unique from the boring fitness trackers and smartwatches available today. But the company is still advertising products that serve a limited number of functions, are often poorly executed, and are nigh-indistinguishable from other products.
It's good that Amazon wants to explain the wearables market's potential to consumers. It's more likely to influence the average person's purchases than another writer weighing the pros and cons about each device. (That juxtaposition is just for you, commenters.) But right now, the storefront does a better job of showing just how little variation there is in the wearables market than it does of convincing me that the market is ready to change computing's future.
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.Then I wondered why so many Galaxy Gear owners are trying to get rid of their devices:
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. [Image via Pearls of Profundity]