Will Smartwatches Save Wearables?
Recently, Samsung, Garmin and Fitbit all released new smartwatches in an effort to compete with the Apple Watch. Around the same time, IDC reported that the worldwide wearables market grew by 10.3% over the last year, with smartwatch sales growing by 60.9% and traditional activity tracker sales shrinking by 0.9%. Today, you might be wondering—are smartwatches going to save the wearables market?
In the near-term, sort of:
Smartwatches are not outselling traditional activity trackers because of better sensors or data quality. In fact, smartwatches include the same sensors and promise the same data quality as traditional, wrist-worn activity trackers. This indicates that a big part of the smartwatch value proposition stems from “smartphone functionality” (i.e., messaging, pictures, personal assistants, mobile payments and third-party apps). So, even though smartwatches are selling, it is not the result of improved health monitoring—the real promise of wearable devices.
In the long-term, no:
- The wrist’s muscles, tendons and bones make it difficult to get an accurate heart rate measurement
- Data collected at the wrist results in false positives (e.g., how shaking your arm adds to your step count even if your lower body isn’t moving)
- Data collected at the wrist isn’t good enough for specialized use cases (e.g., if you want to monitor gait, you should place sensors on the legs, not the wrist)
“But these are big, competent companies—aren’t they overcoming these issues with smart engineering?”
- Read this Apple support page that outlines the Apple Watch’s limitations
- Long story short: no, not yet. Companies are doing their best to deploy hardware that minimizes noisy data and algorithms that correct for it, but there isn’t an easy fix.
- Smartwatches are selling, but it’s not because they are moving the needle in health monitoring (the real, long-term value of wearable devices). To do that, wearables will need to move away from the wrist and / or improve data accuracy.
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