Author(s): Peter Bryer
Headlines have drawn attention to high-profile smartwatches like Apple's Watch, but some device makers have introduced connected watches that aim to be just "smart enough". These wearables are limited in their capabilities but still offer enough features to satisfy a large section of the consumer audience.
CCS Insight has noted a growing number of watches labelled as smartwatches at recent technology shows including CES and Mobile World Congress, though the devices don't run an open platform or have third-party apps. The current vague definition of a smartwatch means most connected wrist-worn devices can fairly wear the label.
Alcatel OneTouch's smartwatch, for example, is a lower-cost watch running its own proprietary platform. It can connect to Android and iOS devices via Bluetooth and has a battery life of up to five days (Apple's Watch, by comparison, requires daily charging). he longer battery life allows Alcatel OneTouch's device to be used for sleep tracking, heart-rate monitoring and as a remote for a phone's camera, and it has a notification area for messages.
The Wiko Watch, shown at Mobile World Congress 2015, hides its smartwatch features behind an old-fashioned analogue watch face. It uses small LEDs to notify the user of incoming messages, and feeds activity tracking information to the phone for review. This bare-bones approach allows the devices to be used for up to six months without charging. It will cost €129.
ZTE introduced its Venus family of watches — each resembling traditional low-cost watches — at Mobile World Congress. These include a model with GPS for runners and another with more basic activity tracking. The products fall in a grey zone between smart and basic, and devices like this will force the industry to bring clarity to the smartwatch category.
These low-cost alternatives to full smartwatches are likely to appeal to consumers looking to jump on the wearables bandwagon. The products have pragmatic advantages: the traditional interfaces and longer battery lives offer a simplicity you'd expect from a staple watch. The ascent of a class of "smart enough" watches could siphon market share from high-end players. Until the dust settles and terms become firm, smart will continue to be subjective.