Philip Ellis
News & Views
Could this be the year of the smartwatch?

Technology you can wear is about to be big business. Google may be the current front-runner for augmented reality specs, but everyone from Apple to Microsoft is developing their own version of the smart watch. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock since the introduction of the crowd-funded Pebble at CES 2013, the smart watch is a device which can be worn on the wrist and offers a degree of smartphone functionality.

These new devices haven’t actually hit the market yet, but analyst firm ABI Research is already stoking the fires of anticipation by releasing a forecast which depicts the potential size of this new market. The long and short of it? Analysts predict that more than 1.2 million smart watches will be shipped by the time 2013 draws to a close. Or to put it slightly differently, as Natasha Lomas did at TechCrunch, the number of smart watch purchases made this year will be approximate to more than a third of the global netbook market.

According to ABI’s senior analyst Joshua Flood, there are a number of contributing factors to the encouraging market potential of the smart watch, including “the high penetration of smartphones in many world markets, the wide availability and low cost of MEMS sensors, energy efficient connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0, and a flourishing app ecosystem.”

Hotly anticipated models include the Apple iWatch, which many are expecting to become the market leader in this new field. However, Samsung’s recent advancements in the smartphone market may also make its smart watch device, the Galaxy Altius, a firm contender.

ABI have identified four possible niches within the as-yet unformed smart watch market, comprising notification types which offer alerts for incoming calls and messages, voice operational models which can be used to make calls, hybrid devices, and independent smart watches which include their own internal operating system.

And while there are currently limitations on what can be achieved technologically, Flood believes that this could well change depending on the success of the inaugural product lines: “Smart watches that replicate the functionality of a mobile handset or smartphone are not yet commercially feasible, though the technologies are certainly being prepared.”

While this “market intelligence” holds about as much value as a reading from a crystal ball at present, and is lent no credence by Natasha Lomas’ description of the smart watch market as “listlessly stuck within its chrysalis of potential”, the sheer volume of research and coverage attributed to this nascent domain is telling.

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