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CES 2015: Searching for the smartwatch market

Colin Neagle | Jan. 8, 2015
Is there a market for smartwatches? If so, how will the industry target it?

ces sony smartwatch 3 mike fasulo
Credit: Pankaj Khadka/BU News Service via Network World

For the smartwatch industry, the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show has served as a sort of massive strategy meeting to figure out how to turn the wristwatch into a technology device.

The panel speaking at a smartwatch session at CES in Las Vegas this morning brought up an interesting parallel how the traditional watch made its way to the wrist in the first place. Utility use cases like the military, which mandated a wrist-worn time piece to coordinate operations, eventually turned a device that most people kept in their pockets into something they had to wear on their wrist. Tech companies today are trying to make a similar transition for smartphones.

This ambition doesn't necessarily mean that the smartwatch market will ever grow to an equivalent size of the smartphone market. The general consensus among the panelists was that it never will. But the wrist is "valuable real estate," the panel agreed, and it presents a handful of opportunities. What the smartwatch industry needs to determine is which customers make up those opportunities, and how they're going to reach them.

The panels' moderator, Creative Strategies president Tim Bajarin, opened the discussion with a blunt observation with which many of the panelists agreed.

"I have yet to find a killer app that makes me want this," Bajarin said.

Dennis Miloseski, vice president of design at Samsung, said his company is less concerned with finding a single wide-reaching application that will drive widespread adoption, but is more focused on crafting a smartwatch that will enhance the mobile lifestyle of the people who use it.

"I personally don't think that we as a society should be staring at our screens all day," Miloseski says.

"We [at Samsung] believe in a philosophy where you can still feel connected to a technology that's important to you without having to take these technologies out [of your pocket]," he added.

Jeff Bonforte, senior vice president of communication products at Yahoo, disagreed with this sentiment, insisting that the smartwatch ecosystem just needs more time to develop.

"From a software developer's perspective, when I hear people say there isn't one killer app, we've actually heard people say that for every technology," he said. "There's always a killer app."

Bonforte pointed to the possibilities created by sensors on wearable devices, which give developers a deep resource of data to rely on when building apps.

"The more important software development that's been happening is the adoption of and the low cost of sensors," Bonforte said. "The more sensors we have, the more we can make software personal. The more personal it is, the less it feels like software."

 

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