2017: the State of the Smartwatch and Google’s Offensive
Still, the consumers were hesitant. Some predicted that the smartwatch “fad” is over. But some kept hope alit that it was all part of the waiting for Google’s next move.
Circa December 2016. It had been a few months since Apple released the Apple Watch Series 2, capitalizing on the absence of the usual Android Wear competition. Though they remained the leader of the smartwatch market, projected sales had been dismal. This, along with the pullout of major tech companies from the smartwatch market, AND the collapse of Pebble, led to rumors of the “death of the smartwatch”. But that was early in the year. Everyone was waiting for Google to make its move, but it wanted to perfect its design before it could make its move.
It was at this critical silence that Samsung, hot on the heels of Apple, stepped in to try to cut Apple’s lead. It had already innovated and some would say “revolutionized” smartwatch thinking when it introduced the “rotating bezel navigation” in the Gear S2. Now, the Samsung Gear S3, followed by the Frontier, convinces many that Samsung is the legitimate alternative to Apple. The limiting element in their smartwatch is the Tizen interface: it is still a small app ecosystem.
Cross-compatibility, however, gave the smartwatch market the necessary push to encourage at least some hesitant consumers. Those still eyeing the Apple Watch 2 (despite the significant loss of Apple’s luster), would no longer be hesitant of parting with their Android phones, because now they could pair both. In fact, cross-compatibility has been applied across the smartwatch industry, giving consumers more options.
Still, the consumers were hesitant. Some predicted that the smartwatch “fad” is over. But some kept hope alit that it was all part of the waiting for Google’s move.
The beginning of Google’s offensive: CES 2017
Android Wear 2 was announced in the CES 2017. And though the highlight of the show were drones, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the smartwatch industry had a presence.
Fossil led the offensive with their announcement that they would release multiple smartwatches under the Fossil umbrella, carrying the Android Wear 2 software. There were other announcements: Casio unveiled its smartwatch variant, as well as the sports companies New Balance and Polar. These provided promising alternatives to the existing smartwatches, but everyone was waiting for the smartwatch “Big One”.
The 1-2 punch: the LG-Google smartwatch duo
Google unveiled their flagship smartwatches in February. The LG Style was the smaller of the series, promising some of the innovative features of Android Wear 2, including the hybrid rotating-bezel dial-crown they unsubtly ripped off both Apple and Samsung. It did not have crucial features that were promised in Android Wear 2, but it was sleek and attractive in design.
The real prize was the other smartwatch: the Google Pixel XL of smartwatches, the LG Sport. Not only did it have the features highlighted in the LG Style, it also had NFC and payment capability, GPS and an independent LTE. The nanosim slot fitted in the back of the LG Sport, officially giving the option to consumers of retiring the mobile phone (at least the option—but “not quite yet” if we are to read consumer opinions).
The problem with the LG Sport stuck out to many: for one, where pioneer users once complained of the size of the 1st gen Moto 360, the size of the Google smartwatch was not exaggeratingly large; it was actually chunky to the wrist. To those wanting to customize the watch, a further disappointment: the straps held the watch antennae and components, so it could not be replaced and customized. Considering what some would call a “cheap feel” in the watch, this would be a deal breaker to many. Battery had also not considerably improved, as LTE felt useless when shutting it off conserved a whole lot of charge.
Still, a flagship was a flagship, and Google’s received praise from some reviewers, with the initial stock of smartwatches getting immediately sold out upon hitting the Google Store. But a lot of critics still believe this was not the ultimate Android Wear 2 watch.
Huawei makes a move: MWC 2017
While one of the big news of the Mobile World Congress was the regenesis of Nokia’s 3310, as well as a market offensive by Nokia, smartwatches also made an important hallmark: the highlight was the Huawei watch 2, which had all the bells and whistles of the LG Sport—well, almost (more on that later). You could have a decent call in the Huawei Watch 2, use it for NFC Payment, and also have an innovative way to insert a sim (conveniently between the lugs). Design-wise, it was beautiful, and sporty. While it was chunky, it was not as large as the LG Sport, and was convincingly a premium watch.
However, the design compromised on comfort. A large bezel went round the watch, giving it a much smaller screen. To some reviewers, it was a step back from the smartwatch advancement, giving some memories of the LG Watch R. Many of them would complain of the potential difficulty of navigating through apps with the small screen, and the hindrance posed by the small bezel. This is further exacerbated by the absence of LG Sport’s innovative rotating dial, giving Huawei Watch 2 consumers the only option of navigating manually.
These were the two leaders in the smartwatch market: the Huawei Watch was hailed before as a leading Android Wear watch, and the Google-LG smartwatch was the Android Wear 2 flagship. But one again, the true Android Wear 2 watch was not in either.
The inevitable move of Switzerland: Baselworld 2017
As it had been before, so it is again: the Swiss watch companies prepared their own take on the Android Wear 2 smartwatch. In the previous years, they countered the tech companies’ smartwatches with their own hybrid-, analogue-, and smart- watches, along with them the likes of Fossil (with its now grandiose plan of 3000 smartwatches), Tag Heuer, and Nixon. With the advent of the Android Wear 2 and the LG Sport – Huawei Watch 2, the Swiss watch companies are hoping to entice consumers with their own variant of an Android Wear 2 smartwatch.
Notable is the immediate announcement of the Swarovski company, which once partnered with other tech and watch companies to make their smartwatches, to create its own smartwatch variant. The announced wearable was targeted at a female market, but time will tell if it will provide for men. Tag Heuer and Fossil also made their presence felt (as if Fossil hadn’t made enough of it), with their upcoming sequels to existing lineup of smartwatches. The watch company Alpina revealed the impending announcement of a “diving smartwatch”.
The follow-up big announcement coming to Baselworld was the move of Movado, which is teaming with Google for their line of smartwatches. Coming at a premium price, they promised that all their affiliate lines would release a smartwatch to be exhibited in Baselworld.
So there it is. In the span of only three months, Google and Android Wear has initiated an offensive designed to take a chunk of the smartwatch market away from Apple and hopefully reinvigorate interest in the smartwatch market for hesitant non-users. This page will update as the smartwatch offensive continues beyond Baselworld.