In order to measure the success of something, we tend to measure it against something else. For example, when talking about the success of Android, it’s often pointed out just how much of the global smartphone market share the platform holds. When talking about the success of iOS, it’s not uncommon to read about web usage numbers. So how do you measure the success of a smartwatch? Do you compare it against smartphones sales? Tablet sales? Traditional watches? Is the smartwatch such an entirely different beast that it can’t be compared against anything else? When Android Wear debuts this year, the platform’s success will be debated for the next several months (years?) to come. It’s time to put smartwatches into perspective.
By the numbers
Accurate numbers for smartwatches, watches and other portable electronics can be hard to come by. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume these numbers are mostly right. According to Strategy Analytics, some 2 million smartwatches were sold in 2013. Of that 2 million, 1.2 million were powered by Android and another 0.7 million fell into the “other” category. If Pebble’s sales numbers of around 300,000 and Samsung’s Gear numbers of 800,000 are right, then let’s be honest here: In 2013, Pebble and Samsung are the only companies that really mattered in the smartwatch market.
Compared against the smartwatch market in general, Samsung and Pebble are doing well. But let’s put those numbers into perspective:
- 1,800,000,000 – Mobile phones sold
- 968, 000, 000 – Smartphones sold
- 300, 000, 000 – Samsung smartphones sold
- 150, 000, 000 – Apple smartphones sold
The number of watches and mobile phones sold in 2013 are surprisingly similar. But the differences in smartwatches and smartphones couldn’t be more different. For right now, though, I can’t think of a better comparison.
What does this mean for smartwatches and Android Wear in particular? It means the market is wide open. Considering how much you hear about Samsung’s Gear and Pebble, you’d think they have a huge leg up on the market. But if smartwatches follow the path of the smartphone, the market is very much still in its infancy. Remember the companies that controlled the smartphone market when that sector was in its infancy? They’re either fighting over the crumbs that companies like Samsung and Apple are leaving on the ground or they’re not even in business anymore.
Forget the numbers
Right now we just don’t know how the smartwatch market will shake out. Smartwatches may never follow the path of the smartphone. I think Android Wear will be a success if it just brings a little organization and standardization to the market. Something like “Moto 360 sales top 5 million” certainly makes for a nice headline. But as a lot of Android and Google enthusiasts know, some of Google’s least popular services and products have been their best. Thankfully Gmail, Android, Chrome, Chromecast, Google Now and the Nexus program have all seen at least some level of success, so Google can keep doing things like Android Wear and be okay if it doesn’t sell a ton of units.
If you’re a numbers person, I’d go with the figures above. If you’re not all about profits and global domination, then Android Wear just needs to be a great platform that works well. Me? I’m somewhere in-between. I’d like to say that all I care about is a solid platform that makes my life easier, but I’d be lying if I said I was going to pay attention to these numbers very closely for the next year.
What would it take for Android Wear to be considered a success? I guess that depends on your definition of success — somewhere between 1 million smartwatches sold and a killer wearable experience is a great bet, though.