Are Apple and Android Wrestling for Wrist Real Estate?

by Matt Klassen on September 11, 2014

Although fashionably late to the wearables party there’s no question that Apple made a grand entrance into the burgeoning niche market on Tuesday with the unveiling of its Apple Watch. With the long-awaited arrival of Apple’s first wearable effort the entire market, which admittedly has struggled to gain traction, is about to get a lot more interesting, as finally we get to see exactly what role companion wearable devices will play in the expanding mobile landscape.

But the problem for wearables, at least in their current iteration, is that they aren’t stand-alone devices, meaning one’s choice for a wrist mounted device will likely be pre-determined by one’s choice of smartphones (why buy an Apple Watch if you don’t have an iPhone?). This means that smartwatches are simply another weapon in a war not between products, but between closed mobile ecosystems.

In fact, despite Apple CEO Tim Cook’s best efforts to market the Apple Watch not as a ‘smartwatch’ or even as a ‘wearable’ (two words he noticeably avoided throughout his introductory speech), the reality is that Apple’s new device is not simply an advanced watch, its an iPhone companion, and while it will unarguably be a hit among Apple fans, will it be enough to actually motivate anyone to switch their mobile allegiance?

It’s easy to frame Apple, Google, Samsung, and Motorola as head-to-head competitors in a battle for wearable supremacy, but the reality is that each player has carved out its own corner of the market, meaning that with no cross-platform compatibility that every tech company has created its own closed ecosystem, with all most wearables restricted to their respective mobile operating systems.

Simply put, despite Apple’s best efforts to market the Apple Watch as an advanced watch—as opposed to a mobile device—the reality is that the watch is “going to be an accessory to an iPhone, just like other smartwatches,” said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner.

Further, it’s doubtful that wearable accessories are likely to be the deciding factor in choosing a given mobile operating system, less so as motivation to switch between them. In that sense, the smartwatches in today’s market exist in worlds of their own, designed, as CNET’s Richard Nieva explains, “only for the smartphones with which they are compatible.”

Given that each wearable stands as an island unto itself, confined to its respective OS, Nieva concludes that, “Whatever feature or hardware race takes place may be to avoid looking behind the times and to continue offering the same ecosystem benefits as competitors.”

So in that sense the arrival of the Apple Watch is good for the wearables market, as even though it won’t be the deciding factor in the smartphone market, it will motivate incumbents like Google and Samsung to step up their game and produce a watch that Android users might actually want to wear.

In the end while it seems that both Apple and Android are wrestling for wrist real estate, the reality is that their respective wearable devices will likely not compete directly against each other at all, but instead serve as a subset of a larger battle between mobile platforms, a delightful (yet expensive) reward for choosing one particular smartphone over another.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that the battle in the mobile market is quickly shaping to be another classic VHS vs. BetaMax or Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD fight, a battle not between products, but between systems. The only difference here is that we already know developers are more likely to side with Apple, while the market has shown that consumers are more likely to side with Android, meaning these two may exist in tension for quite some time, spurring each other on to bigger and better advancements in the wearables sector.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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