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Round smartwatches arrive, but users still waiting for Apple to join fray

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 26, 2014
LG to unveil round-faced smartwatch at IFA, similar to shape of Moto 360; Apple expect to launch its debut device by year's end.

LG's new video teaser showing off a round-faced smartwatch set to debut next week at the IFA show begs a central question: What do users want in a smartwatch?

Round is certainly what the LG G Watch R (as some have called it) provides. LG wouldn't discuss the video teaser other than to say it hasn't announced the device's name.

LG follows Motorola, whose nearly-round Moto 360 is expected to launch in Chicago on Sept. 4. The 360 smartwatch runs on Android Wear

LG's "R Watch" is set to launch just two months after the company introduced its G Watch and Samsung launched the Gear Live. Both devices run Android Wear and both are nearly square in design.

The latest LG effort raises such questions as: Can a round face really matter more than the way a smartwatch functions? Is it really a matter of style over substance?

However one answers those questions, it's a safe bet that Apple is carefully watching. Apple plans to burst on the smartwatch scene soon, maybe later this year, with a product that trumps others on style and functionality, analysts say.

"Design is a critical ingredient to the success of smartwatches but design alone with not do it," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel.

Apple needs to join the smartwatch scene by year's end to take advantage of holiday period marketing hype "or else they miss a sales opportunity," Milanesi added via email. "And they have to enter the market because I think there would be value for them to have something that comes in to add to the smartphone segment that has somewhat lost its shine in the eyes of consumers. The iPhone is still big but I think Apple users are ready for more."

Moto 360 smartwatch
Motorola is expected to launch its round-faced Moto 360 smartwatch in Chicago on Sept. 4, about the time LG launches a round-faced model at the IFA trade show in Germany. Both will run Android Wear. (Motorola screenshot)

Milanesi argued that while smartwatch sales figures are tiny compared to smartphones, users of the new devices are early adopters and power users who help shape new markets. "Those are power users that Apple cannot hand over to Android Wear just because Apple does not have a watch," she said.

There's little question that the early releases of Samsung and Android Wear watches haven't yet made a big impact. Earlier this year, before the Android Wear devices shipped, Kantar found that just 1% of 11,290 UK residents owned a smartwatch, with Samsung holding the largest percentage by far, at 32%. Of that entire group, laptops were owned by 81%.

 

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