Smartwatch Market Could Be A Third The Size Of The Netbook Market This Year (Maybe)

It’s almost like Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft have actually launched smartwatches. Except of course they haven’t. But who cares! Analyst house ABI Research has been stroking its collective beard and come up with a forecast for the size of the nascent smartwatch market. And — drum roll please! — it reckons you can bank on more than 1.2 million of the wrist-strapped gizmos shipping this year.

Put another way, that’s about as many Raspberry Pi microcomputers shipped in its first year on sale. Or just over a third as many netbooks are predicted to ship this year (3.97 million units globally, according to IHS iSuppli). Which means smartwatches could be about as popular as a niche gadget for learning about computing/making a DIY robot, but less popular than the PC that’s cannonballing towards extinction the quickest.

Which sounds about as plausible as any guesstimate produced prior to any mainstream tech companies actually launching product. If you’re in the business of reading tea  leaves it helps if you wait for someone to make a brew before doing divinations.

ABI says its “market intelligence” of the “strong potential emergence of smart watches” — note the careful hedge, and don’t bet the farm on this one just yet — is based on the emergence over the past nine months of “a number of new smart watches”, which is likely referring to Kickstarter-funded Pebble and its myriad of wrist-coveting, crowdfunded competitors.

The analyst also says its forecast is based on “contributing factors” that it reckons are encouraging the smartwatch market to (maybe) emerge from its Kickstarter-powered chrysalis and (possibly) blossom into a standalone butterfly — namely:

…the high penetration of smartphones in many world markets, the wide availability and low cost of MEMS sensors, energy efficient connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0, and a flourishing app ecosystem.

Even though the smartwatch market remains a partially formed, largely limp-wristed creature, listlessly stuck within its chrysalis of potential, ABI has already spotted four categories hoping to fly in the months and years ahead — aka: notification types (such as MetaWatch and Cookoo); voice operational smartwatches (such as Martian); hybrid smartwatches; and completely independent smartwatches — i.e. smartwatches that have their own OS and aren’t just playing second fiddle to a smartphone.

In the latter category, ABI cites I’m Watch as an example but also suggests that other “possible archetypes” could be “Apple’s hotly anticipated iWatch, Samsung’s Galaxy Altius and Microsoft[‘s ‘Windows Watch’, or whatever catchy name Redmond ends up bestowing on it, if indeed it ends up making such a thing at all]. If Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos or Justin Bieber decide to launch their own Android-powered smartwatches ABI would presumably add those in here too.

“Smartwatches that replicate the functionality of a mobile handset or smartphone are not yet commercially feasible, though the technologies are certainly being prepared,” adds senior analyst Joshua Flood in a quasi-illuminating statement of the potential factors that could influence this nascent market’s potential as the hands on our (non-smart)watches push inexorably on.

[Image by Telstar Logistics via Flickr]