Smartwatches Struggle With Mainstream Adoption: Gartner

The limited functionality of the current crop of smartwatches from Samsung and others curtails their broader appeal, Gartner analysts said.

Smartwatches are unlikely to be featured on many consumers' holiday wish lists this year, despite the media hype around models from Samsung and Kickstarter-funded independent developers, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.

There are models that could potentially replace a smartphone entirely—as they include all technologies down to cellular connectivity, while others can perform message display, initiate voice calls and music streaming. However, the limited functionality of the current crop of devices curtails their broader appeal.

"Samsung and other well-known vendors have recently entered the smartwatch space, yet the products we have seen so far have been rather uninspiring in terms of design, available apps and features," Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "As a result, Gartner predicts that wearable devices will remain a companion to mobile phones at least through 2017, with less than 1 percent of premium phone users opting to replace their phone with a combination of a wearable device and a tablet."

The report noted there are still several significant barriers to mainstream adoption, including low interest and awareness among consumers, poor design and price. For example, the majority of products that have been designed or launched so far have displays that Gartner analysts predict many consumers will find "unstylish" due to their bulkiness.

"Users expect more than just more convenience from a new product category that claims to be innovative and priced at $200 to $300," Zimmermann continued. "The same price will fund basic tablets with a good feature set. For the coming holiday season users are more likely to pick the basic tablet option rather than a smart watch as the value proposition is clearer."

Furthermore, applications and interoperability across devices will be a key differentiator that will bring brand loyalty and customer engagement to those vendors investing resources in fostering the developer community.

For example, smartwatches that could connect directly with WiFi access points, which would enable wearers to access the Internet, send messages and make calls through voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) independent of the smartphone, would be enticing features.

"In these nascent days of the smartwatch and wearable devices market, there is very low availability of apps. Once smartwatches become more mainstream, vendors will face new challenges related to use in the work environment and the 'bring-your-own-device' scenario," Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. "Enterprises have to protect their intellectual property and are starting to ask similar questions as back when the first camera-enabled phones came to market. Smartwatch vendors need to engage mobile device management solution providers to increase acceptance by enterprise."