Manufacturers are fighting it out to be different but as Samantha Tomaszczyk says, the biggest opportunity could lie in something that has been considered separate to mobile
Innovation is a common word in the mobile space, particularly among manufacturers trying to differentiate themselves.
And it’s difficult. Take the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, which according to the manufacturer is the ‘world’s slimmest and largest full HD smartphone display’. That may be the case, but it’s hardly something to shout about – even sounding a little desperate.
Tablets have been touted as the next big thing for the past few years, and with good reason too – Q1 sales were up by more than 140 per cent year on year.
But perhaps the biggest opportunity for manufacturers to show a bit of innovation almost everyone can relate to has been staring back at us since before most of us could even read.
I’m talking about watches. It seems ludicrous that this market has, until recently, been thought of as entirely separate to mobile.
When I was at school in the early 80s, the switch to digital watches was nothing short of jaw-dropping – some of them even had an integral calculator with keyboard. A few years later, the school rich kid even turned up with a TV watch following a family holiday in the Far East.
But it seems any drive to integrate mobile technology into a watch has always been ignored, even at times when the trend was to go as small as possible.
Remember, the Nokia 8210? Its screen was smaller than many watches worn today.
But it seems, finally, this market is being recognised.
So-called smartwatches (watches that can perform some or all of the functions of a smartphone) are beginning to creep onto the market – spoken about as products to either replace a handset or complement it.
Apple and Samsung have already said they will launch smartwatches in 2014. Sony Mobile, which has previously dipped its toes into the market without any desire to make waves, has also announced a new smartwatch (see page 2) that is due here in September.
And the early signs look good. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is a smartphone for the wrist, and while the screen is smaller, as you would expect, it boasts decent functionality – it includes Android, is compatible with 100,000 apps, has a touchscreen and is even NFC-ready.
The problem with this is it still requires a smartphone to actually work, connecting via Bluetooth. So in this instance, it cannot replace a handset.
But it’s not just the so-called industry giants stealing a march. Newcomers are looking to make their mark by attacking this gap in the market.
Refreshingly, four entrepreneurs from London – all under 25 – have spotted the gap and have got together to create Androidly, selling what they call the ‘first true smartwatches’ in the UK.
All have full-time jobs alongside running the company. They describe themselves – rather cheesily – as a ‘team of dreamers’, but they have at least turned their vision into something solid.
It made me wonder whether smartwatches are just another example of how big technology companies are growing complacent and slow when it comes to new innovations. After all, if four youngsters with little capital can launch one, why are we still waiting for Apple – which has about 47,000 employees in the US alone – to unveil its version?
Perhaps it is waiting for the market to mature and for demand to increase, or maybe it is looking around at early models and trying to learn from their mistakes.
Or perhaps Apple just knows its customers will wait.
Yes, the manufacturing giants are (presumably) more involved in the building and development of products – but aren’t they paid the big bucks to be first?
If the smartwatch market takes off, it will be interesting to see if there are more new entrants – lower-end watch brands like Casio and Sekonda, perhaps, through to more luxury names such as Rolex, Omega and Breitling.
The opportunities seem limitless – and they are certainly ones to watch.