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Top vendors like Google, Apple hope to take smartwatches mainstream in 2014

Matt Hamblen | Dec. 30, 2013
The smartwatch phenomenon promises to blossom in 2014 as experts expect Google to launch a model by summer followed by Apple sometime in the fall. Even Microsoft is reportedly working on one.

What will work?

Canalys analyst Daniel Matte singled out the $150 smartwatch made by the startup Pebble. That company was started with funding from 85,000 investors found through Kickstarter.

Matta termed the Pebble smartwatch as reasonably successful with more than 200,000 reportedly shipped since its unveiling in early 2013. By comparison, reports have Samsung selling 800,000 Galaxy Gear devices to date, though the number has not been confirmed by the vendor.

"The Pebble is the best smartwatch so far, even though it's fairly basic," Matte said. "The one or two things it does do, it does well, which means it connects well to smartphones and runs apps on the display fairly reliably. It's really early, but it's still not a great device."

The Pebble smartwatch comes in five colors made of a water resistant material and features a 1.26-in., 144 x 168 pixel e-paper display with an LED backlight. The device weighs 1.3 ounces and can work with both Android and iOS smartphones via Bluetooth 4.0.

The ARM Cortex M3-based smartwatch runs the Pebble OS. The processor runs at up to 80 MHz.

The size of the smartwatch's battery is not disclosed, though Pebble says the device can run for up to seven days between charges.

Pebble says that "thousands" of developers are working on Pebble apps. Some of the apps coming soon include iControl, which can control home alarms, the FourSquare social app and GoPro for taking photos.

Currently, Pebble supports notifications from email or other inputs and alarms, music from the phone and some basic fitness apps. The watch face is customizable.

Matte said the Pebble falls at the upper end of the $100 to $150 sweet spot for what he believes smartwatches should cost to catch on with users.

Like other analysts, Matte said most smartwatches today "aren't very aesthetic or fashionable." He did note that Jawbone and Nike are making fashionable wearable smart band devices for fitness and sports activities, and those could provide design tips for the major smartwatch makers.

Neither the Jawbone or Nike device has a watch-like face in the conventional sense.

The Nike+ Fuel Band SE works with iOS and comes in three sizes and four colors for $149, with a rose gold version for $169. (Nike also has a Nike+ SportWatch GPS for $139.99 that has a conventional watch face.) The Jawbone Up24 has a wrap-around design that works with iOS and comes in two colors for $149.99.

With better designs and many more apps, Matte believes that smartwatches (which he terms smart bands) shipments will reach 40 million globally within several years.

"Smart bands are the next big thing in consumer electronics," he said.


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