I’m using a year-end retrospective post on Wareable as the inspiration for my own year-end retrospective on smartwatches. But this isn’t just a reblog—I think there’s at least one big story missing in that post, which I’ll tell you about at the end of this one.
Apple Watch Series 2
I do agree that the second-generation Apple Watch is a big deal, but probably not for the same reasons as most people think. With its refocus on fitness tracking we suddenly saw a $500 USD (on average) luxury item chasing a $100 USD Fitbit. For me, there was no better indication that smartwatches had lost the plot.
The Death of Pebble
The smartwatch pioneer also doubled down on fitness in 2016, but it was too little, too late. If you were interested, there’s one more factor that likely contributed to the company’s demise: Japan Display, Inc., the supplier of Pebble’s e-paper screen, is having its own financial woes.
The Rise of The Hybrid
Fossil Group reportedly began 2016 with a promise to launch 100 wearables by year’s end. Unfortunately their Android Wear products all include Motorola’s contentious flat tire as a standard design aesthetic. But they’ve also popularized an entirely new class of smartwatch: the hybrid. These devices are light on smartwatch features—basically a vibration motor and, if you’re lucky, a programmable light or subdial to track your steps—but big on battery life and traditional watch movements. Nokia also got in on this nascent product category with its acquisition of Withings.
2016 ended without the release of Android Wear 2.0, but what everybody seems to have missed is a major tipping point in the platform. Android-powered smartwatches are now available from no less than four traditional watch companies—Casio, Fossil, Nixon and even Tag Heuer. I still expect Android Wear to eventually capture the bulk of the smartwatch market, just like Windows did with personal computers in the 1990s.
Hopefully along the way we’ll find something more useful for them to do than show notifications on our wrists and track steps.