Even todays, sales of fitness trackers are going strong, and watch manufacturers have recognized the market of the future in smartwatches . Stammel compares wearables’ prospects with the growth curve of the Internet; nevertheless, he says, the technology is still in its fledgling stage. He spoke with ISPO.com about the prospects of wearables and why the technology still looks like it did in computers in 1995.
Mr. Stammel, wearables are booming, but the technology is still capable of improvement. Where is the wearable market right now?
Christian Stammel: Most technologies used today in WT products already existed 10 years ago, but only now have standards such as Bluetooth and Bluetooth low energy caught on. This standardization provides, for any smart phone, a platform to which smart things can easily be connected, including wearables. But I have to say that the entire market is still at an early stage.
In 1994, hard drives were no larger than about 2 gigabytes. In 1996, a four-gigabyte hard drive cost around 1,800 marks. Today, a hard drive with 160 GB doesn’t cost more than 30 euros. So what exactly do you mean by that?
We always compare the development with the rapid development of the Internet in its early years from 1994. We find ourselves once again at a time similar to about 1995– so still in the initial phase of the Internet – with countless opportunities and of course also countless risks. But some of the top companies of our time were formed in that era. We hope, of course, the same for us, with regard to the market for wearable technologies.
Does that mean that as early as five years from now, wearables will really find their way into our daily lives?
It will be very difficult to make a prediction about which products will have become part of our daily life in five or ten years as wearables. Basically, I'm assuming that wearables will accompany us in every stage of our lives. 10 years ago, no one would have thought that the GoPro would come out on top because nobody wears a little box on their helmet. Today this product has shaped an entire market, its name has become almost a generic term and its founder one of the first billionaires in the young wearables market. Even with in-depth knowledge, you can’t 100 percent predict these things.
Wearables are causing problems for watch manufacturers
Is Apple still a trailblazer like with the Apple Watch, or are there other trends?
The major benefit with Apple is user-friendliness, even if the battery life is very low. But that’s the basic problem in our industry. Most smartwatches don’t last longer than 12 to 14 hours. Otherwise, Apple has managed to set a standard in usability. The Apple Watch has not radically changed the whole watch market alone, but in combination with the numerous other watch manufacturers such as Samsung, Huawei, Sony and many others and long lasting change is occurring in the watch market. For example, the US market for watches costing between 300 and 800 Euros has slumped dramatically and this slump of around 40% is due to the many smartwatches and, for the most part of course, Apple.
But now the watch manufacturers must also follow suit.
In the future, every watch manufacturer will incorporate a smart component, even though there will definitely still be those who say that they want nothing to do with it. But even high-end manufacturers are now increasingly coming into the smartwatch market. Companies like TAG Heuer or Casio are making good sales with their watches, but still not in the same volumes as the Apple Watch. But what is already the case is: Apple has had a significant success. Not in comparison to smartphone sales, but in comparison to the watch market.
But there are still glaring weaknesses, like the lack of GPS in the Apple Watch.
Another problem is the battery life. The display alone uses lots of power. If GPS is also introduced, then the battery life will again be significantly reduced. Aside from that, the Apple Watch is constructed in such a way that it’s always linked to a cell phone and uses its GPS data. In this respect a standalone GPS therefore does not make sense in a clock like the Apple smartwatch. In pure sports watches that are made to record distances even without a smartphone, a private GPS is then needed. As a manufacturer you have to consider exactly which application scenarios the customer wants and then define the components and functions of the watch. Theoretically, you can now put virtually all functions in a watch due to the ongoing miniaturization - but then this “super” smartwatch will only run for one hour.
Virtual reality goggles are a big hit right now. Will we all soon have a little box in front of our heads?
Immersive 3D glasses have already become an integral part of the gaming industry. Even the first training applications in the sports sector were recently shown in Project Icaros at ISPO Munich. In the wider mass market, we’ll first have to see how it develops and whether it becomes the new 3D television. Companies like HTC and also Facebook are already investing heavily in this segment of wearable technologies. This market is definitely a hot topic.
Immersive glasses are a product of the future,
Google Glass was more practical for everyday life.
Google Glass was certainly much more practical for everyday use, but it was always obvious that the user was wearing a Google product. Especially in the smartglass market, we assume that solutions will be established in the private sector that are not immediately recognizable to non-specialists. Especially for those of us who do not wear glasses, wearing something on our face presents a large hurdle. This is different in the professional environment where goggles or other work clothes are worn. But also in special cases, such as the gaming market, where users are used to interacting with controllers and computer games are usually played within the users own 4 walls, other rules apply. There won’t be any more stories like the old Google Glass in this form. New solutions will be highly integrated, no matter who the manufacturer, and will support the user in way that is not visible to non-specialists and/or will supply them with augmented information.
That’s why the smartglasses market isn’t really growing that rapidly.
Something’s already happening in this sector, and the market will grow again. I think that we’ll see the second wave of smartglasses and eyewear in 2018. Once they see what’s already happening with immersive goggles, then everyone will rush ahead. Epson projected the normal image on glass, and this will continue to be improved. But when we talk about smartglasses, it does not always have to be a head-up display, it can also be sensors built into the frame.
To date, every manufacturer has been trying to make their devices intelligent. How then can the wearable market be sorted?
Because every marketing channel has different margins or distribution channels, I would divide the market into six categories: Medical, wellness, lifestyle & computing, sports & fitness, industry & safety, and fashion. The topic of marketing has not been solved for many wearables manufacturers. You can have a sports product that doesn’t sell as easily in the spa or fashion market because there are simply other structures that dominate and different margins apply. However, many wearables products fit in well to the sports market especially in the fields of fitness and healthcare.
In two further parts, Christian Stammel of Wearable Technologies explains the added value of wearables in sports, and how athletes can optimize their health with the small, portable devices.
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