A new report from Strategy Analytics shows digital disruption at work in a perhaps unexpected area: wristwatches. And although smartwatches are still anything but the ideal e-reading platform, this strong market growth could lead to all kinds of interesting developments in the wristwear and wearables space.
“Global smartwatch shipments reached 8.1 million units in Q4 2015, compared with 7.9 million Swiss Watch shipments,” states the Strategy Analytics report. “It is the first time ever that smartwatches have outshipped Swiss watches on a global basis.” Alas for Applephobes like me, “Apple Watch captured an impressive 63 percent share of the global smartwatch market in Q4 2015, followed by Samsung with 16 percent.” That certainly isn’t going to do any harm in underlining smartwatches’ credibility, though.
Strategy Analytics’s perspective is clearly that smartwatches have already disrupted the Swiss watch business. Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, stated: “The Swiss watch industry has been very slow to react to the development of smartwatches. The Swiss watch industry has been sticking its head in the sand and hoping smartwatches will go away.” There are still plenty of open questions, though, as to whether smartwatches and Swiss watches are the same kind of product addressing the same needs at all. Sheer unit sales numbers may not matter so much when top-end individual units are so pricey. And as one headline in Quartz proclaimed last year, “Swiss watchmakers’ greatest fear isn’t the Apple Watch — it’s men wearing jewelry.”
What these developments will most likely do, though, is validate the smartwatch space and promote further development in it. Some Swiss watch players may be moved to invest in and throw their brands behind it. Certainly, other manufacturers and developers probably will. Qualcomm is already demonstrating this with its new Snapdragon Wear 2100 system-on-a-chip platform, designed to offer one-stop technology for smartwatch manufacturers and already earmarked for LG’s next generation of Android Wear watches. Qualcomm is essentially providing wearables manufacturers with a smartphone-standard platform.
The most interesting developments, though, could be not in smartwatches themselves but in flexible and rollable displays, like LG’s own color sheet that made such a hit at this year’s CES. The experimental ReFlex bendyphone prototype looks not too far off a wearable form factor, especially with its haptic interactive technology. With this kind of tech around, it’s not hard to imagine a smartwatch or wearable with a slide-out or unfolding screen that could make wrist e-reading a practical solution. And with smartphone and tablet market growth softening, manufacturers may be ready to expand into a new high-growth area – whether or not it goes head to head with pretentious manbling.