14 Oct 2016

Will Smartwatches Ever Be A Thing? How Thingy Should They Be Anyway?

When the first Apple Watch arrived early last year, the reaction was muted. The entire smartwatch genre appeared to generate much the same reaction, one collective “meh”.

The problem with this category of wearables is that it didn’t offer anything you couldn’t get elsewhere on something that you already have. It offered the cut-down functionality of your smartphone, which in many cases, your watch needed to have on hand anyway.

Admittedly, the smartwatch was much more featured than the wearable fitness trackers, but it also had a heftier price tag. The necessity of trackers is itself up for debate, since if research is to be believed, about a third of users basically stick their tracker in the drawer after six months anyway. (This probably has more to do with the fitness aspect of the product than the technology one, since that’s the same approach many people take to their gym membership.)

The only things smartwatches seemed to have in the pro column was that they look cool and are easier to surreptitiously check when you’re talking to someone boring. But both could be said about old school watches too, and it didn’t stop the vast majority of people dumping them the minute their phone was smart enough to tell time. Of course, you could also pretend to be Dick Tracy, but apparently, the demand for wanting to be a comic strip character from the 30s is relatively low.

Part of the issue is one of perception. Ever since the smartphone came smashing into our lives (apparently more people have phones than have toothbrushes or access to basic sanitation) it’s created the idea that if everyone doesn’t immediately adopt a device, it’s a failed category.

Life is obviously less black and white, and while it’s possible there will be the killer app that makes smart watches indispensable, at this stage, they seem to be settling into their own groove. Indeed, research from Telsyte released this week shows that after a fairly flat beginning, they’re gaining traction in the Australian marketplace.

Sales grew 89 per cent in the first half of this year compared to the previous year, (when the Apple Watch was first released) and they account for one out of every three wearables sold. With the smartphone market more or less saturated, it’s not hard for a new device with a modest increase in sales to out-grow them. Interestingly, Telsyte’s research suggests that we’re starting to see people wait longer to upgrade their phone and use the money to buy a watch instead.

The main drivers for adoption seem to be replacing that fitness band in the drawer, and the fact it’s apparently now too much effort even to dig your phone out of your pocket for contactless payments.

But the overall pattern that’s emerging is that smart watches are not the next smartphone and that’s ok. Vegemite and avocado on toast isn’t for everyone either, but for its enthusiasts, that doesn’t matter.

VR’s Thing Status Is Finally Cemented

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Speaking of technologies going mainstream, 2016 is widely regarded as the year that will finally determine how much of a thing virtual reality (VR) really is, with the launch of consumer versions of products like Oculus Rift. Last week Mark Zuckerberg announced the “asynchronous spacewarp” development kit, allowing smoother graphics. Not wanting to make some people vomit, is, of course, a crucial factor in determining the likelihood a technology will gain acceptance.

VR has been on the verge of becoming of thing for decades, right back to the days when the graphics allowed you to act out the fantasy of living in a Dire Straits video. But again, this year is proving that it’s not all or nothing. A US survey by Yeti found that as VR and its cousin Augmented Reality (AR) are edging ever closer to the mainstream (even as a fad like Pokemon Go), their use in industry is also blossoming. 85 per cent of those surveyed already have VR projects in development or plan to in the next couple of years. Education, media and healthcare are the main markets.

So even if you never dive into VR personally, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed your life. Perhaps your doctor was able to better treat you because they studied a VR version of your body. Maybe in that virtual reality, you were even wearing a smartwatch.

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