Posted By Simon Montford on May 19, 2015
The term "smartwatch" is becoming increasingly confusing. A powerful touchscreen device that's capable of running apps, making and receiving calls, as well as texts is a very different beast to a Fitness Band that tracks activity, and tells the time. Both devices, however, are referred to as "Smartwatches", as are the three illustrated above, but they possess very different features, and capabilities.
The term "smartwatch", therefore, needs to be more clearly defined, or done away with altogether. As it stands, the term is confusing at best, and misleading at worst.
I would like to start by suggesting we all work together to devise a taxonomy. If we don't come up with a clearer definition of what constitutes a "smartwatch", potential buyers could end up purchasing a product that doesn't meet their expectations, leading to frustration and disillusionment.
Of course "Early Adopters" are not the issue. It's the "Early Majority" that require clarity as they are the ones that we all hope will be responsible for the 200 million unit sales that are predicted to materialise by 2020.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, I have devised my own taxonomy, but of course I am open to suggestions. My primary aim is to get this issue on the agenda, and get a dialogue going among consumers and industry professionals.
Please note that my attempt to establish this taxonomy should not be regarded as a ranking system, whereby App Watches (see below) are superior to other categories of smartwatch. Every product within each category possesses strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately it is up to the customer to decide which product suits them best. All I am attempting to do is provide a more meaningful taxonomy to avoid the confusion we all currently face.
Furthermore, I don't believe OEMs are deliberately trying to deceive customers. I just think they are being forced to use misleading terminology, because the vernacular, as it currently stands, is too vague.
The following terms are simply suggestions, so please feel free to offer constructive criticism, by leaving comments, or you are very welcome to contact me directly (@simonmontford).
This category refers to devices that are ostensibly conventional watches that have Bluetooth connectivity, so although they lack an LED screen, data collected by sensors within the watch can be uploaded to a smartphone. They are incapable of running apps.
Examples of "Connected Watches" include the Activité Pop by Withings, the Cockpit B50 by Breitling, as well as three watches; the Mondaine Helvetica 1, the Alpina, and the Frederique Constant that contain an embedded sensor-solution by Fullpower, called MotionX.
Fitness trackers and Fitness Bands not only tell the time, but they are also designed to monitor calories burned, sleep, and steps. Devices that fall into this category include Nike Fuelband, MisFit Flash, Basis Peak, and FitBit Surge, and the Garmin VivoFit 2.
This category is made up of devices such as Pebble, Olio, Cogito, Agent, Microsoft Band, Wellograph, and Omate that offer limited, or no touch screen capability. They can, however, run simple apps via a lightweight (usually closed) operating system, that's been designed specifically for that type of watch (PebbleOS is a good example). One could argue they offer the best compromise in terms of price and battery life, but as they cannot run third-party apps, their functionality is limited.
Watches that are designed specifically for a particular sport such as golf, running, swimming, and weightlifting. Devices that fall into this category include TomTom Runner, Atlas, Beast, Swimmo, and TomTom Golfer.
This category belongs to the heavy lifters of the smartwatch world. To be eligible, devices must possess a processor that's capable of running a "full-strength" operating system such as Android Wear, Apple Watch OS, Tizen, webOS, or the forthcoming Firefox OS. They must also incorporate an OLED display. Examples include Moto 360, Samsung Gear S, Sony Smartwatch 3, and the LG Watch R.
3G/4G App Watches
Very few smartwatches currently offer 3G or 4G connectivity. Those that do require a SIM card, and tend to be quite bulky. This category of App Watch does, however, enable the wearer to send and receive texts, make and receive calls, and access the Internet without a smartphone. Even the Apple Watch is incapable of doing this! Examples include the Samsung Gear S (3G/Tizen), the Orsto x5 (3G/Android KitKat), and LG's first 4G Smartwatch the LG Watch Urbane LTE, which runs a "pimped up" version of webOS called the “LG Wearable Platform operating system”.
There's an increasing number of interesting wearable devices that are difficult to define, as their form factor is so different. I have decided to place these products into a category called "Other" for now. Examples include Neptune, Rufus Cuff, and Puls.
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