However, perhaps the biggest development in this nascent market came from Google with the launch of the Android Wear for iOS app that allows iPhone owners to sync their phones with Android smartwatches.
This is a notable development as it means that iPhone owners are suddenly able to consider buying and using Android Wear wearables, increasing the competition Apple faces as it tries to entice legions of iPhone users to buy an Apple Watch.
Behind enemy lines
Annette Zimmerman, from Gartner, told V3 that Google’s intention with this move is to increase the audience for Android Wear smartwatches, a tactic that could work in some markets.
“Google is trying to open Android Wear smartwatches to a larger audience and, given the different price points, there could be one or two iPhone users who go out to try an Android Wear watch,” she said.
“There is a sizeable iPhone installed base in North America and Western Europe, so the opportunity is certainly there in those regions but probably less in emerging markets where the iPhone installed base is much lower.”
However, a concern for Google is whether people became frustrated with the limited functionality offered by iPhone/Android smartwatch integration.
“The main issue with this move is that the experience of Android Wear paired with an iPhone is quite limited compared to pairing an Android watch to an Android smartphone,” said Zimmerman.
“Some users might not know what they are missing, but there is the risk that users might be really disappointed which, of course, then has the adverse effect of what Google was trying to achieve.”
This doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem at present, and the app has an average 3.5 star review from 95 ratings since launch. There are dissenting voices, however, noting the sorts of concerns Zimmermann raises.
One reviewer, Eggwigg, writes: “There is not much you can actually do with [the app] to classify it as smart. I haven’t figured out how to play my music on it as it requires Google software and there is no way of downloading an app with this app.”
Others are more upbeat, such as the following from ‘Bcrid’: “I am finally able to use my old Asus Zenwatch! Generally, it works well. The only major flaw I've noticed so far is that it won't open the Google Maps app when I ask it to navigate home or to work. It starts to open, but then it seems to crash.
“Otherwise, I'm quite happy I could dust off the watch I had before moving to Apple.”
Such comments will no doubt be music to the ears of Google execs who will hope that the app entices many more people into considering an Android smartwatch.
However, Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics is dubious that many iPhone owners will be swayed.
“The Apple Watch is a premium smartwatch with a premium brand, while most Android smartwatches today are sub-premium models from sub-premium brands. For example, an Apple iPhone owner is unlikely to want to wear a low-cost Alcatel watch.”
CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood had a similar view: “Apple devotees are unlikely to waver from an Apple Watch, and the reality is if you want to get most from the iPhone with a wearable you need an Apple Watch," he told V3.
Wood acknowledged, however, that some iPhone owners will be tempted to get a smartwatch and pair it with an iPhone for a fraction of the cost of an Apple Watch.
“If you look at some new models, like from Asus that came out at IFA for €150, these are maybe three times less than an Apple Watch and that could be appealing to some iPhone owners,” he said.
The app may not threaten the Apple Watch's overall dominance, but every iPhone owner Google convinces to buy an Android smartwatch will be a mini-victory, as its end goal is always to get as many people as possible using its services to increase the data it can use to target advertising.
However, this could end up alienating Google's smartphone manufacturing partners, such as Sony or Samsung, as they may see Google's move as just giving iPhone owners yet another reason not to need an Android phone.
“Before if there was a desirable Android smartwatch that could only be paired with an Android phone, iPhone users couldn’t have it. But Google has removed that barrier now," said Wood.
Of course, if Apple did feel threatened by Google's move it could always lower the price of the cheapest Apple Watch, the £299 Sport edition, to negate the cost savings offered by the Android Wear for iOS app, as Mawston from Strategy Analytics noted.
"If Apple lowers the price of its next-generation Watch, as some think it should do, the price gap between higher-end Android models and lower-end Apple models will diminish, thus making Android Wear for iOS even less attractive," he said.
Wood does not believe Apple will do this, at least not in the immediate future, as the company has little to fear from Google’s attempt to infiltrate the iPhone user base.
“I don’t think Apple will be losing any sleep over Android Wear for iOS,” he added.
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