IFA, the huge European trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances, was held recently in Berlin. There was a tremendous amount of wearables activity at IFA 2015, dominated by smart watches, including fitness watches. While there were smartphone announcements from the likes of Sony, Huawei, ZTE, and Lenovo, we are possibly entering an era where smartphones take a back seat and wearables come center stage, especially at large consumer electronics shows like IFA and CES. With smartphones having matured as a product category, there is an expectation that wearables will pick up the slack and the marketing budgets. Some of this was evident at the show. Also, IFA 2015 has been the first big consumer electronics show following the launch of the Apple Watch and the Fitbit IPO, which is possibly why we are seeing a surge of wearables being introduced.
Samsung Gear S2
The Huawei Watch, announced earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, goes on sale this month, with the United States being the big target market for Huawei. The watch comes in different models with a basic watch starting at $350 and going up to $800 for a gold plated one. Samsung also announced its Gear S2, which is also a round-face watch like Huawei’s offering, but has a more sporty and trendy look thanks to its design partnership with Italian designer and architect, Alessandro Mendini. It also has wireless charging and runs on Samsung’s Tizen operating system. Samsung is also launching Samsung Pay on the Gear S2 and has announced a number of partnerships with Nike, Volkswagen, AliPay, Twitter, and SmartThings (owned by Samsung), among others. With Samsung trying to distance itself from Android Wear and pushing Tizen, it needs to ensure that the developer ecosystem is engaged and continues to develop applications for its smart watch platform. The one unique feature in the Gear S2 is the round digital bezel embedded into the frame of the watch itself. Samsung has essentially taken a feature found in many analog watches and converted it into an interesting UI tool, a fitting response to Apple’s digital crown. The Gear S2 also comes in Bluetooth and 3G options, allowing customers to use the watch as a smartphone companion device, or use it on a standalone basis. Samsung is one of the pioneers in the smart watch market, and with the Gear S2 it looks like the company’s design philosophy is maturing, and so is its ability to bring together a compelling package of apps and functions. Where Huawei seems to be trying too hard to compete with Apple, the Samsung Gear S2 looks like the result of Samsung having gone back to the drawing board, carving out its own unique identity in an increasingly crowded market.
Sony had a surprise up its sleeve with the Sony Wena. Designed in partnership with Citizen, the Wena has a classic analog dial watch face, but with digital features like notifications, sensors, and NFC connectivity. Motorola also showcased its second generation Moto 360 at IFA 2015. Overall, Motorola has stuck to the same design, but has more strap options, especially for female consumers. The company also unveiled a Moto 360 Sport model, essentially a sports smart watch. In addition, Asus and LG added new devices to their smart watch lineups with the Asus ZenWatch2 and LG Watch Urbane Lux, respectively. While, Asus is going for the economy smart watch market with prices starting at €149 ($166), LG has its sights set on the luxury market with a 23-carat gold watch priced at $1,200.
TomTom added to its lineup of fitness watches with the Spark, a watch that offers fitness tracking, music, and GPS. It also has a heart rate monitor version called Cardio. Fitness watches essentially offer fitness tracking, and don’t need a smartphone to operate. They are targeted at fitness enthusiasts that want a watch that is smart, not in terms of providing notifications or apps, but one that has fitness sensors, location tracking, and can help them with various sports and fitness activities, is rugged, and has a good battery life. Fitness watches are becoming an increasingly crowded space with the likes of Garmin, Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, Adidas, Runtastic, and Polar all offering fitness watches. Also, generic smart watches like the Sony SmartWatch 3 are becoming popular fitness watches.
Philips Health Watch
Philips introduced what it calls the “health watch” that can track heart rate, steps, and sleep. Still in the prototype stage, it is expected to launch in April 2016. Unfortunately, Philips is already late to market even with its prototype, as there are number of solutions available in the market today from fitness trackers to smart watches and fitness watches that can offer the same or more functionality.
Overall, IFA 2015 was a preview of what consumer electronics shows are likely to become in the future. We saw a glimpse of this at International CES 2015, and the trend continues at IFA 2015. While these shows will continue to showcase TVs, home appliances, smart home devices, and smartphones, we should also see increased focus and announcements for wearable devices, with health and fitness driving most of that trend in the near term.