As smartphone vendors and component suppliers continue to expand into the wearables market, by 2016 smartwatches will comprise about 40 percent of consumer wrist-worn devices, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.
The company noted that seven out of the top 10 smartphone vendors have entered the wearables market to date or are about to ship a first product, while a year ago only two vendors were in that space.
Apple’s introduction of its own smartwatch at a recent press conference again has appeared to heighten the stakes in the market with the company’s traditional blend of stylish design and premium materials.
"The Apple Watch announcement sets a benchmark for higher-end smartwatches, which will both trigger interest and significant sales of smart watches in 2015," Angela McIntyre, Gartner analyst, told eWEEK. "Apple introduced three smartwatch models that will sell at a wide price range, with the lowest starting at $349. As with the iPhone, Apple's high-price strategy for the watch will limit its market share; yet, with its attention to design and the user interface, we believe this product will attract many users."
A recent consumer study conducted by Gartner at the beginning of the third quarter of 2014 gave some indication of the current installed base of fitness wearables and dedicated sports watches.
The results showed that fitness wristbands and "other fitness trackers" combined are already represented in more U.S. households than sports watches.
Sports watches, such as dedicated running watches, have been around for many years, but such products are not for everyone and hence do not have mass market appeal. Gartner expects this trend to continue in the next few years as fitness wearables proliferate.
McIntyre said the Apple Watch will be purchased by people who own multiple Apple devices or as a gift, and she noted Apple in its presentation also specifically spoke to female user groups--and with regards to the fitness and health services--with interest in fashion and leading an active life.
"Smartwatches can be thought of as the evolution of digital watch design. For example, the Casio G-shock has a model that is a connected watch. Traditional watch manufacturers, such as Fossil, are likely to add smartwatches to their product lines," she explained. "According to Statistic Brain, 1.2 billion traditional watches are sold in a year. Smartwatches may be 5 percent of traditional watches sold in 2016."
McIntyre noted successful smartwatches will have appealing styling that people would like to wear even if the device could just tell time, and with the launch of Apple Watch, Apple showed an interesting user interface as well as new style and design options.
"The attention to detail on the design and the high quality of the case, screen and bands are currently rivaled by no other smartwatch, except the Moto360," she said. "From what was shown, we could tell that Apple invented an entirely new user interface optimized for using it on a watch. Although Apple Watch still needs to be put to the test the experience looked more sophisticated than some other solutions we have seen in the market where vendors merely tried to replicate the same UI of a smartphone on a much smaller screen of a watch."