Wearables Week In Review

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Week In Review

Rumors, hype and soon-to-launch

The summer is a time for vacations, reflection and for the rumor mill to spin up prior to the coming holiday season. With that in mind, this week we’re highlighting some of the expected announcements for the Fall.

New Apple Watch in September

While Apple has not yet announced a September event, it seems very likely. That’s the typical cycle for previous Watch announcements, allowing time for the product to hit the market prior to the holiday season. Six new model numbers have been filed in the Eurasian Economic Commission in Russia (equivalent to the FCC here), which suggests that we’ll see the usual array of sizes, cellular options and potentially a refresh of the Watch SE.

 That’s the easy call. More interesting is what Apple may launch. The latest speculation is that there will be a slightly flatter-edged design, to somewhat mimic the iPhone 12 look and feel, as well as a larger battery. This latter point is key: as Apple continues to focus on wellness features, including sleep tracking, the current 18 hour battery life is simply not enough. What’s more, as Apple looks to add more health features – rumors of blood pressure and glucose monitoring – the current battery will under more strain. And finally, for the past year there have been suggestions that Apple will launch a more rugged variant of the Watch, to better target more active sports users that currently rely on Garmin. That’s a longer shot, as it may compromise the design aesthetic that Apple is best known for.

So why the 90% rating for something that looks like sure thing? Global supply chain issues could force Apple to delay any planned announcement for months, rather than driving down the price of the current model before the next gen device is ready for launch.   

Samsung to launch new smartwatches

Samsung has an Unpacked event set for August 11. Traditionally this event was used to announce the new Note phones, but those are no longer in play. However, Samsung has pretty much already said what will be in this announcement, meaning we don’t need to rely on the rumor mill. President TM Roh published a blog last month saying that this event would be about foldables and wearables. From a wearables perspective, this should be the first launch of the new Wear OS (the child of Tizen and Wear collaboration between Samsung and Google). We know that a key feature of that OS will be a tighter synergy between smartwatches and smartphones, allowing for automatic downloads of relevant apps that are already on the phone.

From a hardware perspective, the announcement is less clear, but based on Samsung’s existing portfolio, we would expect a couple of variations hopefully with Active and Galaxy watch updates… and hopefully a clearer delineation of which device is best suited for what wear case. We would hope also for more focus on cellular connectivity, which is a fast growing segment of the smartwatch base. This should be less new hardware (we don’t exactly need 5G on a watch) and more on aggressive carrier promotions to drive market share.

Sure. There’s a chance that Samsung will focus just on foldable smartphones, but it’s highly unlikely. Afterall, the whole point of the new Wear OS is closer synergy between watch and phone, so launching both at the same time makes sense.

Garmin Fenix 7

Garmin offers a broad range of smart-ish watches that are mainly focused on sports activities. The Fenix is arguably the most iconic of the range but it has been a couple of years since the Fenix 6 came out. Last year, instead, saw incremental improvements to the 6, with the addition of a solar charge option. And it’s time for a bit of an update: the Fenix still rocks a monochrome screen while most smartwatches – including Garmin’s Venu – are color. Of course, monochrome helps keep the long battery life that Garmin is known for, but perhaps that is less important on the Fenix than on more sports-focused versions such as Forerunner. It could also be time for a cellular model so that runners can leave their phone behind but still be contactable. Whether that would require an OD overhaul is another matter though. Oh, and a touchscreen would also help bring the Fenix up to date with the increasing competition.

The timing makes sense, as the device is two years old – a lifetime in terms of the smartwatch market – and we are poised to enter the all-important holiday sales season. Garmin has a loyal base of users, but without a significant upgrade to the current Fenix, this base will be increasingly tempted by alternatives such as Apple’s Watch.

Xiaomi developing hybrid “cuff”

Rumor has it that Xiaomi is building a smartwatch/tracker hybrid cuff that comes with a wraparound display. The new device, supposedly called the Mi Band X, was spotted on PCNews, which cites internal Xiaomi presentations that refer to a 360 flexible scroll screen without a strap. This isn’t, of course, the first curved screen solution to hit the market: Amazfit’s X probably claims that honor.

We see a significant challenge in the concept though: while it seems “cool” and futuristic, the consumer market seems quite satisfied with a watch-like device. Quirky device interfaces typically don’t’ do too well in the mainstream market.

Do we think such a device is in development? Yes, absolutely. Will it make it to market…? That is less likely to our mind, and even if it does, it is highly unlikely to launch into the US. Still, it’s one to keep an eye on as it could, despite our predictions, lead to a fresh new design model. Afterall, a wraparound screen does provide the ability to show more stats and notifications.

Google Pixel Watch

The Google Pixel Watch is the rumor that just won’t die. For years there has been the theory that Google will launch one, similar to the company launching the Pixel phone, as a means to experiment with new OS innovations (the Pixel phone typically gets new innovations before the remainder of the Android market). Google’s acquisition of Fitbit has, to some degree, strengthened the theory of a Pixel watch launch, as Google now has a manufacturer arm – not to mention the expertise – to launch such a device. But at the same time, the company now also has an existing brand in Fitbit that negates the need to launch a Pixel watch. Further, now that Google and Samsung have merged efforts on Wear OS, Google is less likely to launch new innovations on their own hardware ahead of Samsung.

As for the probability of this product launching? Frankly, it's a coin toss: this is the year that it will either launch, or the rumor can be squashed. Google often announces new hardware in October, so if it is coming, we shouldn’t have to wait long. More likely is that we see the Fitbit brand launch a new product that potentially negates the need for a Pixel watch.

Please note that due to vacation schedules, there will not be a Week In Review for the next two weeks

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