If you have another tech savvy person on your holiday gift list, and a little extra money lining your jacket pocket this chilly season, you’ve no doubt been scouring for the ideal gift.
Plenty of folks will consider buying a smartwatch this holiday season — and for good reason. They’re still pretty new and price-wise, they tend to fall toward the more affordable end of the spectrum, versus, say a laptop or HDTV — and you also don’t have to worry about added expenses like cell phone plans.
But once again, is now the right time to buy a smartwatch? Almost exactly a year ago today, we published a column addressing the question, and back then, the answer was pretty clear: wait another year. There was a veritable laundry list of reasons why one should avoid gifting a smartwatch in 2013, but it all came down to one fairly simple explanation: “No one has cracked the smartwatch yet.”
You should wait, not just for the Apple Watch, but also for the space itself to mature.
A lot can change in a year — particularly in the world of consumer electronics. In the last 12 months, Samsung and Sony have continued to learn how to swim in the space, further tweaking their watches, and a lot more major manufacturers are dipping their toes in the water for the first time.
Google’s already made a splash with its Android Wear operating system, letting third party manufacturers do the dirty work of designing a wearable device that normal people might actually be interested in wearing. And then, of course, there’s Apple. Earlier this year, the company finally announced its long awaited wearable, with one major catch: the Apple Watch won’t be available until 2015.
The timing no doubt struck many as jumping the gun for Cupertino. After all, Apple has conditioned us to expect immediate gratification when it comes to product announcements — or, in the case of iPhones, enough time to make arrangements to take a day off work so you can wait in line at an Apple Store. In the case of the Apple Watch, the plan seemed clear — Apple needed to instill doubt in the minds of consumers ahead of the holiday season.
With the Apple Watch looming large over gadget buyers this holiday season, is it worth holding out? The easy answer is yes. You should wait, not just for the Apple Watch, but also for the space itself to mature. Heck, it’s hard to recommend snapping up the first generation Apple Watch either. As much as the company and its fanbase might want to believe in its infallibility, no first generation product is great – not even one made by Apple.
Until you’ve tested a device on a large sampling of real consumers, it’s nearly impossible know how something will perform in the real world. For better or worse, that means early adopters will forever bear the burden of becoming unintentional guinea pigs. But if one were to continually hold off buying a product in fear of what the next generation will bring, then, well, no one would ever actually buy anything. That’s the double edge sword of the tech world: there’s always something infinitely better just a little way down the road.
There’s always something infinitely better just a little way down the road.
Nevertheless, the Apple Watch does present a number of compelling reasons to avoid the smartwatch space this December. The first applies to the 40-odd percent of U.S. tech buyers out there rocking an iOS device. If the person you’re buying for owns an iPhone, you’re going to want to seriously reconsider buying them anything but an Apple Watch, and that means waiting.
Sure, other devices play along with Apple’s smartphone, but one thing seems for sure: that device is going to work with other Apple products in ways that no other smartwatch can. If there’s one thing Apple’s good at, it’s getting its products to cooperate together. It’s part of what made the company such a mobile juggernaut, and it’s what’s going to keep iPhone owners tied to the Apple Watch and vice versa.
Of course, at launch, the Apple Watch will be iOS-only, meaning it’s a useless pick for any Android phone users on your list (ditto Windows Phone and BlackBerry, if you happen to know any of those), and there’s no reason to believe Apple will branch out to other operating systems in the near future, barring some sort of catastrophic sales problem. (It’s not going to happen.)
Last year, we also cited aesthetics as another reason to avoid a smartwatch. The Moto 360, LG G Watch R, and Pebble Steel have improved watch design standards, but as expected, Apple has really raised the bar in terms of looks. And as we discussed in a recent column, when it comes to wearables, looks really do matter.
Beyond mere aesthetics, the Apple Watch will serve as a litmus test for every smartwatch that follows it. Apple has a long history of transforming product categories, but even if the watch flops, it will still have a major impact on every smartwatch moving forward — as well as other manufacturers’ basic commitment to the space.
The smartwatch space is still far from mature. It’s hard to say when it will reach critical mass, but whatever the case may be, we’ll almost certainly be able to divide the world of smartwatches into the before and after the Apple Watch category.
Unless you plan to buy another watch in a year, we still recommend you hold off on a smartwatch this holiday season. In the meantime, might we interest you in a lovely fitness band?