Last week, geek-focused early smartwatch player WIMM Labs was revealed to have been acquired by Google, lending strong support to earlier speculation that the search giant would enter the watch-based computing fray with a wearable-device follow-up to its ambitious Google Glass project. Consider it the opening bell as the race begins to own consumer wrists, and expect more targets of opportunity to get cleared off the board this coming Wednesday once Samsung gets the ball rolling with what will likely be the first smartwatch entry from a major player.
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear appears to be a decent enough lead-off batter for the smartwatch line-up; rumors suggest it’ll have a decent internal processor (1.5GHz dual-core), 1GB of RAM, a 4 -megapixel camera with 720p video capture, a 2.5-inch OLED display and 10 hours of battery life. @evleaks has offered up screenshots that purportedly show the Android phone for controlling the Gear and its settings, and it looks like a lot of what we’ll see in the Gear in terms of functionality will resemble what we’ve already seen from devices like the Pebble.
There’s a decent amount of consumer interest in devices like Pebble, which had sold 275,000 devices to date as of July through pre-orders and Kickstarter, and the Hyetis Crossbow, an absurdly expensive smartwatch from a Swiss watchmaker that has already managed to rack up 300 sales – which sounds weak until you realize that each of those 300 people are paying $1,200 for their Crossbow. But none of these devices from smaller startups is doing anywhere near the kind of numbers that an Apple or a Samsung would require to make a product sustainable.
Others like MetaWatch haven’t revealed just how well they’ve been doing yet, but the Fossil spin-out did have a successful Kickstarter run for its Strata smartwatch. MetaWatch and Pebble (whose creators have been building smartwatch devices since the inPulse) in particular look like choice acquisition targets as OEMs like Samsung and Apple look to bolster their smartwatch expertise ahead of a device launch.
Some big companies. like Sony, have a head start in terms of in-house experience. It built a Bluetooth watch back in 2008, and followed that with the Sony Smartwatch, which is getting a sequel soon. But others including LG and the countless additional OEMs probably investigating this space following all the hype that’s been generated have good reason to be on the lookout for an easy talent acquisition.
Hardware startups are difficult in terms of making something sustainable and making something that can scale with demand while keeping costs low for end users. It’s a challenge that convinced MakerBot it was better to partner up with a larger, more experienced company through acquisition, and it could eventually do the same for Pebble and its ilk. The only problem now might be whether it’s too late to join up with anyone who’s looking to build such a device, or whether the bulk of the talent/expertise land grab has already taken place.