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Big smartwatch push at CES anticipates Apple's entry later in 2015

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 5, 2015
LAS VEGAS -- At International CES this week, more than 500 vendors are showing off wearable computing gear of some flavor or other.

Despite all the attention, some diehard techies wonder why smartwatches and other wearables matter, some having called them a lifestyle and fashion trend that won't have staying power. They point to the wide variations in analyst forecasts as support for their point of view. A number of analysts suggest that smartwatches will matter a lot — probably more than most people have guessed — but not right away. In addition to having multiple consumer uses, smartwatches will matter for workers seeking greater productivity and for marketing officers in companies that want to design smartwatch apps to better engage with customers.

Last year, the smartwatch became more fashionable and less clunky, but it also became a quick way for a executives to quickly get alerts of an important email or call, without the need to dig into a pocket, purse or briefcase to find a smartphone. There's been a recognition that a smartwatch can be a smarter, more powerful and more convenient pager-like device that alerts a doctor to a patient's emergency or a stockbroker to a sudden market shift for a key stock.

In 2015 and beyond, customers are going to demand more smarts from these devices, even better looks and pricing that's well below $300. "Almost anything is on the table, and all the software and apps for the wearable hardware is what will matter most," said Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst.

One of the biggest pushes in the past year has been on sales of dozens of different fitness wrist bands, such as those from FitBit and Jawbone. Some of these wrist bands have GPS tracking and Bluetooth connections to smartphones where more of the functions reside for monitoring workouts and the user's health, such as heart rate and sleep functions. Fitness wearables are expected to whet the appetite for more functions inside smartwatches and other smart wearables.

The 10% threshold

In a 2014 survey, Forrester found that 10% of 4,556 U.S. adults said they had used a wearable device to track daily activity. That 10% traditionally represents a key threshold for future growth in product adoption. While Google Glass might be considered experimental, "Entering 2015, wearables are poised to take off," Forrester's Gownder said. "People are intrigued by the prospect of getting a wearable device and are tired of pulling a smartphone out of a pocket to get information."

Because of Apple's reputation with its previous products, it has influence in any category it enters. "We absolutely believe the Apple Watch is legitimizing the entire wearables category," Gownder said.

"There were smartphones before the iPhone and tablets before the iPad, but what Apple does is leverage the ability to educate consumers about new categories and shows us what matters and gives a category legitimacy," Gownder said. "Apple will make a splash in 2015 and legitimize the category. When we look back years from now, it will be a watershed year for the mass market for wearables."


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