Here's Why 2014 Will Be the Year of the Smartwatch
The rise of wearable computing is an inevitable -- eventually -- but 2013 wasn't the breakthrough year for Web-tethered watches, glasses, and other personal gadgetry items that some had predicted it would be.
Maybe things would have been different if Google's (GOOG) high-tech Google Glass specs had extended their reach beyond the first wave of beta testers. Or if Apple (AAPL) had delivered on the iWatch rumors.
As it stands, the first wave of smartwatches on the market have generally failed to impress. But that's not fatal. There's always time to disrupt conventional thinking, and 2014 should be the year when it all comes together.
Smartwatches Still Have a Lot to Learn
Qualcomm (QCOM) became the latest player to enter the smartphone market when it began shipping the Toq this month. It offers integration with existing smartphones, a series of apps, and wireless charging.
At $350, it's not cheap, but it promises a longer battery life than the handful of smartwatches already on the market. That's because of its proprietary reflective screen technology that doesn't rely on the power-slurping backlit LCD found on most smartwatches.
It remains to be seen how well Toq will move this holiday season; it may not necessarily fare any better than Samsung's Galaxy Gear that rolled out a couple of months ago. The devices allow you to take phone calls, which the original and cheaper Pebble smartwatch did not do. But Samsung's first foray into smartwatches is currently limited in the variety of Samsung devices that it can play nicely with.
Who Will Make the Smartwatch Ubiquitous?
Pebble turned heads last year when it used a successful Kickstarter campaign to launch its $150 app-centric smartwatch, and these days, even Best Buy (BBY) is stocking the device.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Qualcomm and Samsung are tech giants. Qualcomm is the wireless chip behemoth, and Samsung is the world's biggest seller of smartphones. If their arrival on smartphone bandwagon wasn't enough to mark 2013 as the year of wearable computing, why should we expect Apple to be the herald of that change?
For the obvious, reason, of course: Apple the tech world's current heavyweight champ in innovation and disruption. The smartphone market was essentially a preserve of corporate types before Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007. A few years later Apple introduced the iPad, while consumers were still wondering if they really needed a device that fell somewhere between an iPhone and a laptop.
Spoiler alert: They did.
And let's not forget iPods, or the iTunes store, which turned the music industry upside down.
Apple's eventual arrival has a strong chance of transforming the wearable concept from a niche idea to mainstream ubiquity. You may not think you need a smartwatch -- now. But after the consumer tech tastemaker sways the early adopters to buy in, you'll start wondering why you should have to rifle through your purse or pockets the next time your phone rings or when you get an incoming text. Over time, the next generation will come to think of it as normal that you should be able to get score updates, Tweet alerts, or GPS directions by simply glancing at the screen on your wrist.
Apple may not be able to do it alone, and there is already chatter that Microsoft (MSFT) will introduce a wearable computing device in 2014. Nor should we dismiss Amazon.com (AMZN). The leading online retailer didn't have a problem putting out its own tablet and e-reader. A set-top TV device reportedly got shelved ahead of a planned holiday release this season. And once Apple throws its weight into this niche, it would be a shock if Amazon doesn't react by sensing the opportunity to compete on price with its own gadget.
We're going to go out on a limb and predict that its going to be a good year for smartwatches -- and potentially a great one. Get ready, 2014. You're on the clock.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.