Strategy Analytics Says Apple Top Wearables Vendor in Q1 (May 8, 2017)
Apple Watch Loses Google Maps, Amazon, eBay Apps (May 1, 2017)
This piece does a good job digging up the news that several iPhone apps from high-profile names have quietly ditched their Apple Watch companion apps. I’m seeing some spin this as a sign that the Apple Watch isn’t working for people, but the reality is that we’re seeing two rather different things at play here. Firstly, apps on the Apple Watch were one of the big misjudgments on Apple’s part: as a group, they really haven’t taken off, not least because in their first couple of iterations they were painfully slow to use. Performance of apps has improved markedly in watchOS 3 and on the Series 2 hardware, but that leaves us with problem number two: many of the apps launched for the Watch simply don’t provide enough utility either on a standalone basis or as alternatives to the iOS versions to be worthwhile. And what we’re seeing now is some of those failed experiments going by the wayside.
We’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t on the Watch, although a glance at the official App Store for the Watch gives you some idea of what Apple thinks: health and fitness apps dominate the first screen, followed by games, news, sports, and finally utilities. Apple obviously has its own play for navigation, which works particularly well for walking directions, and the Amazon and eBay apps were always a bit of a stretch. The eBay app is a great example of a use case that doesn’t actually need its own app but can work perfectly fine with interactive notifications or a widget on the iPhone. So we’re likely to continue to see apps come and go from the Watch, not least because developers now have many possible areas of investment around iOS apps, including watchOS, tvOS, iPad support, support for the unique hardware features on the iPad Pro line, and so on. As such, some are likely very wise to prioritize other features and platforms over the Apple Watch, while others will do well putting their investment on people’s wrists.
via Apple Insider
This isn’t good news for Fitbit, at a time when it was supposed to be recovering from a tough year and getting back to profitability and eventually growth. As I’ve said before, I suspect its push into the smartwatch market will be more of a distraction than a help to the company’s overall performance – it puts it head to head against Apple in a category Apple currently dominates and takes it out of the sweet spot it’s historically done well in. If it’s also unable to produce a decent product in accordance with its own internal timeframes, then that bodes even worse for the further push into this category following the Blaze launch last year. Another big question not addressed by this article is to what extent Fitbit will be able to integrate some of what it acquired from Pebble and Vector over recent months in this new product – so far, it looks like it’s more of an iteration on the Blaze than something completely new.
via Yahoo Finance
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 hands-on review – Wired (Mar 17, 2017)
Earlier in the week, I wrote about Swatch’s smartwatch operating system and components, and in passing referred to Tag Heuer’s Android strategy. It’s now in the second phase of that strategy, with a highly modular and customizable approach this time around, and a modest goal of selling 150,000 of these watches, compared to just over 50,000 of its first attempt. That’s obviously a tiny fraction of the overall smartwatch market, and it’s hard to see how it’ll make money at this scale with this much customization. Apple has offered the most customization of any tech-centric smartwatch to date by far, but this Tag watch seems to take the concept much further, which may be appealing to potential customers, though the watch itself looks incredibly thick and bulky, even for a Tag.
It’s fascinating to think about this move in the context of the history of Swatch. Though the company incorporates much older brands, the Swatch name and brand arose in the early 1980s out of the Swiss watch industry’s previous crisis: quartz watches from Asia. Those watches caused a massive decline in the Swiss watch industry as cheap, highly accurate watches from Asia flooded the market. The Swatch brand was created to compete with these quartz watches, offering a simpler mechanical watch with cheaper materials that could compete with the new entrants, and it worked. Now, it appears Swatch wants to defend against the new crisis – smartwatches eating market share – with its own entrant, based on technology co-developed with a Swiss university that specializes in miniaturization. I may be biased, but suspect it’s easier for the tech industry to learn about watches than it is for watchmakers to get really good at technology, even with some help. I’m skeptical that this move will work out, but given how poorly Android Wear has fared, it certainly can’t hurt, and may well do better than competitor Tag Heuer’s Android strategy.
This is a good follow-up to this morning’s item about the new Android Wear watch from Huawei, and argues much as I did that other smartwatch makers are largely failing to learn the lessons of or compete effectively with the Apple Watch. It frames the discussion in terms of the compromises and tradeoffs watchmakers choose to make, which seems a smart way to think about it, and has arguably always been one of Apple’s strengths.
via The Verge
I linked to reviews of Android Wear 2.0 and the LG watches that launched at the same time a few weeks ago, and those were pretty negative. Now, here we have another entry from a major Android vendor and it seems to be at least as bad as LG’s. At this point, it feels like some Android vendors have given up on the platform entirely, while others seem to have given up trying to make a smartwatch competitive with the Apple Watch but are still putting what they do have out into the market. None of this is going to help Android Wear or smartwatches in general. I’ve said before that I think it will take a Pixel-style first party entry from Google to give this platform the boost it needs, because for now Android Wear continues to be more or less irrelevant in the smartwatch and broader wearable market. Even if Google does get into this market directly, however, it continues to be far smaller and narrower than many people originally thought, and it’s currently dominated by Apple.
via Android Central
Wearables grew 16.9% in Q4 2016, Fitbit still first but Xiaomi is gaining – VentureBeat (Mar 2, 2017)
The numbers here look about right, but what a far cry from the forecasts of the wearables market we saw a few years back. I recently wrote a piece on the state of the wearables market, in which I argued there are really three important sub-markets within wearables: the Apple Watch in its own category, dedicated fitness trackers (in which Fitbit dominates in western markets and Xiaomi in China), and Samsung’s various devices, many of which are bundled with smartphone purchases and therefore thrive on a rather different business models from the others. These IDC numbers largely back that up with market share numbers, but also reinforce the point I made in that article about how the market has fallen short of its theoretical potential and largely stopped growing. It can still grow, but the offerings need to get much better and broader in their appeal, and to some extent we also need the technology – especially in components – to catch up with the vision here.
Huawei Watch 2 and Watch 2 Classic officially unveiled at MWC 2017 – AndroidAuthority (Feb 27, 2017)
These two watches are somewhat reminiscent of the LG smartwatches that debuted with Android Wear 2.0 a few weeks back – there are again two, with somewhat different form factors, but this time the feature set is more consistent across them, as is the price. That price, though, is fairly steep – in line with the low end of Apple’s Watch price range, which continues to be a tough place to be when your watches look very much like the smartwatches they are rather than nice pieces of smart jewelry. Huawei definitely has the scale to do some interesting things in watches if it chooses to, but I can’t see these new models selling in very large numbers at these prices.
Android Wear and LG Watch Reviews Are Mixed at Best (Feb 8, 2017)
It looks like Google and LG lifted an embargo this morning on Android 2.0 and LG’s two new smartwatches. My first reaction to the reviews here is that the new watches sound pretty terrible, and that we’re back to grading these smartwatches on a curve, something I first noted back in 2014 before the Apple Watch was announced. The Verge review is illustrative – it notes that the Sport version is uncomfortable and enormous (it doesn’t fit under shirt cuffs), doesn’t have interchangeable bands, the Android Pay app takes too long to load, and can’t be used while swimming; the Style version lacks most of the more interesting features on the Sport, looks cheap, and the batteries on both versions struggle to make it through the day, while Android Wear 2.0 is pretty buggy. The Verge’s rating? 7.1 for both. Their rating for the Apple Watch Series 2? 7.5. Android Wear has struggled to take off ever since it launched – it’s just never felt like Google or its OEMs understand that watches are fashion accessories, and need to be designed for that job. Packing a billion features into these watches isn’t going to cut it, especially if they don’t work well, or they end up looking ridiculous on your wrist. I’ve seen nothing here that makes me think Android Wear 2.0 is going to do any better than the previous versions.
First Android Wear 2.0 devices revealed: Google and LG’s Watch Sport and Watch Style – VentureBeat (Jan 17, 2017)
Evan Blass is the Mark Gurman of the Android world – when he reports on a leak, it’s usually pretty reliable and often ends up being very accurate indeed. The watches described in this leak are in keeping with what we’ve already heard from Google itself and other sources, so that lends additional credibility. The context here is that Android Wear has never really taken off – as with VR, the biggest success among the Android vendors hs been Samsung’s, which hasn’t been based on Android at all, and Google needs to ensure that other Android OEMs without their own ecosystems can compete too. So far, that hasn’t worked, and some Android OEMs are giving up on Android Wear for now. However, Google clearly hasn’t given up, and appears to have convinced LG to join it in launching some new watches to showcase Android Wear 2.0. I’m skeptical that this will make any difference – what’s become clear since the Apple Watch launched is that we don’t yet have a great model for smartwatches other than as fitness and health tracking devices, and Android Wear doesn’t seem to have provided very appealing options in that category.
Fitbit acquires the Vector smart watch startup, as the wearable giant continues its roll-up | TechCrunch (Jan 10, 2017)
Consolidation continues in the smartwatch market. This piece is a little too effusive over the original technology – Vector wasn’t that special. But, like the Pebble deal, this is about Fitbit buying in IP and to some extent skills that should help it sharpen its next generation of wearables and smartwatches specifically. As the wearables market continues to be tough, we’ll see much more of this, and many of the smaller, struggling, vendors will be snapped up by the few remaining big names, with Fitbit likely one of the big acquirers.
The prevailing narrative around Android Wear – and it’s an accurate one – is that it’s flailing, and OEMs are largely backing away from it. ZTE offers a counterpoint here – it’s planning to launch a watch later in the year – but it’s the exception that proves the rule, as Roger’s piece here points out. I still think the best hope for Android Wear is really compelling first party hardware from Google, though that may also kill off what few OEM offerings remain.
It’s become increasingly clear in recent months that Android Wear is struggling mightily. Without a shot in the arm from Google, it seems likely to wither on the vine. I still think a Pixel-like direct entry from Google is the best strategy here, but this might be something of a stopgap.
The Inside Story Behind Pebble’s Demise (Dec 12, 2016)
Pebble was one of those rare combinations – an apparently popular brand that somehow nonetheless failed to translate that popularity into financial success. Its profile arguably far exceeded its achievements, and I was never a fan of its products. Its ultimate failure suggests few others were either. But this is an interesting recounting of what went wrong, particularly because Backchannel has been covering Pebble rather positively as part of a recent series.