Earlier today Apple unveiled their newest addition to their product family, the Apple Watch. Many of my favorite tech news sites have done a great job providing details, specs, and even some hands-on initial reactions & reviews of the new hardware. Although the unit displayed at the unveil event today was locked in demo mode and release is not set until “early 2015” — we’ve already been provided with enough detail to know that this device will in many ways turn the wearables segment on its head. Here is why….
SIDEBAR: Yes the title of this article is a bit of a joke. Obviously I’ve not yet tested the Apple Watch against any of these top selling fitness trackers. And the devices listed are all about half the price of this new Cupertino gadget. Still one can’t help but wonder if the Apple Watch release won’t somehow disrupt the segment. Will it?
Editor’s Note (9/11/2014) – I’ve added a Post-Script to the end of this original blog post, to go a bit further in detail about the various trackers listed in the title of this thread, now that I’ve had a few more days to ponder the forthcoming Apple Watch. Be sure to check it out!
Now before you all lambast me for being Apple fan-boy #1 and break out your torches and pitch forks, let me remind you that I recently gave the folks at LG a chance to woo me when I reviewed the LG Lifeband Touch device. And if the latest offerings from Samsung would actually work properly with an iOS device I’d have also allowed them a chance at the real estate on my left arm. But in the end nobody but Fitbit has won me over, though many have come close (especially the Misfit Shine and Garmin Vivofit). Yet I think that is about to change, and that could spell bad news for 25% or more of the market share of wearables.
Data from sources such as ComScore and Chitika would have you understand that iOS accounts for over 60% of web traffic. How many of those folks actually want a wearable is uncertain. But we know for certain iOS is a big chunk of the market and as such, the potential consumer for these new wearable devices. Companies like Fitbit haven’t released a new device in a while (though rumors have been floating around for a few months of new devices coming soon), and with the holidays around the corner people are looking for some new gadgets to enjoy. People have known for some time that the wearables market is on the cusp of an explosion. Now that Apple is about to throw their ball into game play the real question is how much of an impact will this device make.
Let’s make no mistake, the Apple Watch is NOT going to be the top seller in the wearable tech category. It isn’t even probably going to account for a quarter of the market at the onset, given two huge limiting factors. First, the device is purported to start at $349 USD, which is a ridiculous amount of money (though on-par when you compare it to the similar Samsung Live devices at $299 USD). Then you have that lingering quote from Tim Cook at the event today where he said, “Apple Watch requires the iPhone because it’s been seamlessly designed to work together.” If indeed you need an iOS device (circa iPhone 5 or newer), you’re limiting the market even more. Most consumers I’ve come across in my personal interaction want something under $100 — how easily Apple can lure folks to this luxury price point will be, as they say, the proof in the pudding.
But those reasons for concern are the exact reasons why this device is poised to turn the market upside-down. Imagine the first time someone with a Misfit Shine or Fitbit Flex sits down next to their friend with the new Apple Watch. Do you remember your first friend with a smart phone showing it off next to your candybar/slider phone? How about the first person you knew with a driver’s license back in high school? Envy will run strong, and the geek inside all of us will want one. This is great news for Samsung and LG, who already have strong wearables available. Android users who see an Apple Watch “in the wild” next year will see it, want one, and are likely to purchase the corresponding Android-offerings. (I’m excited about the Moto 360, too and hope to get a chance to tinker with one at my local big box store soon). Apple users who can’t afford the $349 and up pricing will settle for something else that works on their phone, such as the Striiv Touch or the recently released Garmin Vivosmart. And finally those who have an appropriate newer Apple device and the discretionary income will ante up for the new, and likely amazing, Apple Watch.
At the end of the day almost everyone will WANT the Apple Watch. Even folks limited in budget to those sub-$100 devices will yearn for the Apple Watch. There will be those who don’t want a smart watch, or who just prefer the colorful simplicity of their Lime Green Fitbit Flex. But Apple does a good job getting the general public to become aware of their devices. It is already taking over today’s news stories, and when it comes out next year the commercials will fill TV screens across the globe. That is where the market starts to shake, as competitors work hard to differentiate themselves. Samsung already offers a great lineup of devices, and should prove the best competitor in this segment, with LG and Motorola not far behind. Competition is healthy, and while Apple’s market share is small, their presence means customers are going to expect more from their wearables thanks to today’s announcement. That is a win-win for everyone, especially in the next year or two as prices start to come down to a more reasonable point.
For me, this might be the beginning of the end. As my wife put it earlier today, the Apple Watch is a bit of a white whale for me. Though the device doesn’t offer endless battery life as I might desire, it does everything else I’ve wanted. With the contact-less inductive charging, the seamless integration with my iPhone, and Apple’s new Health & Fitness suite, my hands-on review next year is likely to prove that my search for the perfect fitness tracker is over. Can one device exist that will finally fill those shoes? I’ll be waiting, with bated breath.
Post Script … (added September 11, 2014)
Some of close friends have started asking me if I plan to buy the new Apple Watch, and of course my first reaction has been “hell yeah” — but now that I’ve had a bit more time to think about it, a few stand-out concerns have cropped up that make me wonder if it will be the right device for me. As I thought more-and-more about the device I came to realize we have two unique categories that are forming here, and I wanted to talk about those for a brief moment using this same original blog post. Those categories would be Smart Watches, and Fitness Trackers. And of course, some devices try to span both.
First let’s talk about the smart watch devices. Beyond just displaying the time, these “smart” devices are expected to run other applications. Some of what they do can be fitness based, but their true success is that they work as an extension, and at times, alternative to your phone. Some of the best selling examples of these on the market today would be the follow:
One thing that is interesting about those last two devices is that they are meant to be a fitness tracker AND a smart watch, bridging the gap between this category and the next. And it is in this category above that the Apple Watch will slot itself, both in price and in function.
Next up would be fitness tracking devices. Some of my favorites are the ones listed in the title of this post, such as the:
At this stage in the wearables game it becomes important to note that fitness/activity trackers do not run 3rd party apps. They often don’t even have a display (maybe just LEDs), and their prices tend to hover around the $99 mark, give or take. That seems to be a sweet spot for consumers, as most of my peers have told me that is the most they usually want to spend on a fitness device. Those willing to spend the $199-or-more amount for the smart watch expect a lot more, and they get it. And that is where the Apple Watch is headed, into that premium segment.
Down the road prices may lower enough that fitness/activity tracking “only” devices will cease to exist, but I’d argue that many people don’t want a smart watch and I suspect that these simpler sensor-gadgets will thrive for that reason. Also I suspect that you’ll eventually find the most basic wrist-worn fitness devices will soon be $49 or less, making it far easier for a mass-market experience. And that is great for consumers all across the globe.
Right now you need to ask yourself what you want. Do you desire the benefits of “apps” and a smart watch, or do you simply want something that tracks steps or similar? And how does battery life, visual wrist-based display, and phone integration matter? You’re going to find a lot more smart watch comparisons crop up as we head closer to the Apple Watch release. One of my biggest sticking points with trackers has been battery life, and I’m not sure I want a smart watch that needs charged EVERY day. Even the best of these devices like the Pebble needs charged once a week or more. And the Striiv Touch tries hard to span fitness and smart watch, being somewhat limited with apps, but also has similar battery life. (Another similar to the Striiv is the new Garmin Vivosmart, which is almost identical in style and battery life).
Fitbit is set to release some new devices around the corner, and those could prove to compete nicely with the other fitness trackers on the market. But make no mistake, the trackers are NOT competitors to the smart watches, or vice versa. Pick the price you want to spend, and the “basic” feature set you want, and go from there.
Assuming you’re in the market for a smart watch, then I can fairly easily suggest the Apple Watch if you are an iOS user. It will integrate with your phone better than any other device and provide you all the fitness feedback you want plus the apps you expect from the smart watch experience. There is no other option set to be released or currently available that will be as good for the money. Many have tried, none will come close.
When you jump to being an Android smart phone user, things change. There are plenty of options, some very new ones like the Moto 360 and the new offering from LG. These start to complicate things. Because I am not an Android user you will NOT find me reviewing these devices at any length. Sorry, but that just doesn’t fit my fold. I’m partial to Samsung, personally, however— so I’d check out the Gear Fit and Gear 2, first and foremost.
Lastly, if you are looking to spend on a budget and you’re happy with just a nice fitness/activity tracker, things become a bit more blurred. I’m no longer recommending the Fitbit Flex at the best device, since the Misfit Shine and Garmin Vivofit offer better battery life and the same MFP integration I’ve always desired. Those are my three favorite devices, with the Misfit/Garmin being tied (I like the HRM option of the Garmin, and the stylishness of the Misfit). And again these are coming from me as an iOS user. For Android users, if you have the money to spend, the LG Lifeband Touch and Samsung Gear Fit are my two favorite devices, and the latter actually tickles into smart watch capabilities, too.
Moving forward, I suspect I’ll play with the Apple Watch when it comes out. But I’m not sure I personally want/desire the apps capabilities. I’m not sold on the $349-plus price tag. And I’m definitely not a fan of daily charging. But let’s see what else comes out between now and the release of the Apple Watch … you never know what things will look like in 6-months. Ciao!