Pie or Squared?

Which Smartwatch Shape Will Prevail?

LG_smartwatch_lThis autumn will be the season that the market for smartwatches is really solidified. Several industry flagship products will be unveiled on the catwalk, defining the styles for years to come.

The market for smartwatches is developing into one of the fastest-growing segments of the consumer electronics industry. CCS Insight forecasts that, by 2018, 135 million wearables will be sold — a near 14-fold increase from the volumes of 2013. Most of these devices will be smartwatches (see Hotline Wearables Drive Continues with Shipments of 135 Million by 2018).

Recent product announcements and teasers from HP, LG and Motorola show a trend toward stylish, round-faced smartwatches. Looks are being stressed before function by these brands, and rightfully so. Circular screens support a skeuomorphic design for smartwatches, allowing these small wrist-worn computers to resemble classic, high-priced timepieces rather than commoditized electronics.

For many consumers, smartwatches will primarily be fashion statements, and any maker looking to gain market share in the higher price bands will need to understand the watch market well. Watches are a long-term attachment compared with subsidized handsets that are upgraded every 24 months. They are a functional form of jewellery, even as they begin to intersect with the Internet of things. Some smartwatches coming to market later this year are truly stunning devices, with their complexity well hidden beneath good looks.

The available APIs for smartwatches support several device designs (to the benefit of market entrants), and components are getting slimmer and sleeker. Smartwatches will be brand ambassadors that the user wears and looks at every day, and this provides an opportunity for manufacturers to associate fashion with their company name. The market for smartwatches will be big, with tens of millions of units sold each year. Styles will come and go, and different designs will meet the needs of varied market segments. However, bulky, flat, rectangular wrist-worn screens will have limited appeal. There should be no angles for the smartwatch market to go mainstream.