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Smartwatch unlikely to cause the next mobile revolution

In September 2014, Apple announced its first entirely new product since the death of Steve Jobs, its founder. The Apple Watch, which went on sale a month later, in October 2014, can be used to make payments, monitor heart rates and check emails. It even tells the time. But with prices ranging from $350 to $17,000 (for a gold edition) and a battery lasting just 18 hours before a recharge, many wonder if this really is the moment when wearable devices will break through.

At STR, we conducted a short online survey amongst our panellists to ask their views not only about Apple’s iWatch but its competitor products too. Our smartwatch market research intended to find out the proportion of people who already own the device as well as the proportion who consider getting one. We also asked our panellists if they thought that the smartwatch is going to cause the next mobile revolution – following laptops, smartphones and tablets (devices that that all changed the way we communicate, shop and work).

As illustrated in the chart below, based on responses in June and July 2015, the vast majority of our panel do not own a smartwatch.

And most people who took part in our smartwatch market research said they were unlikely to purchase the wearable device.

Generally, and this is probably unsurprising, the younger our respondents the more  they were to be persuaded to buy a smartwatch.

Of those who said they were not interested in buying one, the majority said they were just not keen on such a device in the first place and more than a third thought it was too expensive.

Of those who did not rule out buying a smartwatch, the majority were attracted by the device’s ability to give directions and location based information. Fitness monitoring and messaging were features that appealed to women more than men; fitness monitoring was also more popular amongst North Americans than Europeans (including British citizens).

We asked all who took part in our market research if they thought that the smartwatch was going to cause the next mobile revolution following in the footsteps of laptops, smartwatches and tablet computers.

Without accounting for those who weren’t sure – nearly a third of our respondents – the majority (or 61%) thought that the smartwatch is not the next piece of technology to significantly transform consumer habits.

Further insights on the smartwachtes’ potential can be gleaned from our panellists more detailed responses. The majority held sceptical views:

“I love technology when it’s providing something useful to me and it’s not cumbersome to use. So far, nothing I’ve seen about smart watches indicates that it will serve my needs or wants in any way. The true test of technology is when it shifts into being something we can’t imagine having done without. I can’t see that this is going to be that next big thing.”

“It seems like a pointless distraction to me at a time when people are already overloaded with digital information.”

Only a few had positive things to say about the wearable device.

“I am far more organized and efficient since I began using my Sony watch synced with my Samsung S5. Much easier to do organizational tasks while commuting (on public transport) in the a.m. & p.m. and get a head start on each day.”

“I’m intrigued by them. I wish the prices were lower and I would most likely jump into them, but only for the well known brands such as Apple or Microsoft.”

The launch of smartwatches has caused great excitement. Many advertisers, app-developers and other professionals believe that just as smartphones and tablets revolutionised the way we communicate, shop, work and organise our lives smartwatches will do the same.

But our survey shows that most people hold a different view: The vast majority of people surveyed as part of our smartwatch market research do not currently have a smartwatch and most of them say they are unlikely to buy one. Costs are the most frequently named barrier. But many don’t see the purpose of the smartwatch in the first place. In the words of a respondent. “They appear to be a luxury item that will only appeal to the gadget loving.”

These findings will be particularly interesting to marketers and advertisers who wonder if smartwatches will be an appropriate place to engage with consumers. It will also be of interest to software and app-developers who consider building smartwatch compatible versions of their apps and programmes.

In a nutshell, the answers from our research are: if your main market is gadget-loving 20 and 30-somethings who are on top of technological trends, interested in keeping fit and looking good; then yes, you should consider creating smartwatch apps and advertising. If however your main market is the broader general public, it may be better to wait for the next potential mobile revolution…
In June and July 2015, market researchers LJ Research surveyed more than 400 people with an equal split across genders; 21% aged between 16 and 34, 44% aged between 35 and 54, and 35% aged 55+. The sample is comprised of 42% of respondents from UK, 17% from North America and 25% from Europe.