Wearables: Motorola watches while Apple waits

All eyes are on the… wrist? Wearables seem to be the next area of interest technological development, and the next wave of Android smartphones is only a few months away. Will customers wait for Apple?

The smart watch edges ever closer to the mainstream. Earlier in the week, Google announced its Android Wear – not a device, but an operating system to allow the construction of wearable Android-based devices. Here’s the video explaining it:

So, we wait for the first devices to be built that feature it. It won’t be a long wait – the still Google-owned Motorola has a prototype ready to go

Will the Moto 360 turn heads?

The Moto 360 is a nice looking device, that makes what looks like a very promising attempt at creating something that functions as a good watch, looks as good as most watches, and is still capable of being more that that – a fully fledged communications device. Again, the video tells the story better than I can:

It won’t be in our hands (or on our wrists) until the Summer – and that’s a US launch date. Other countries will get it after that.

Small watches, small sales

Here’s the thing: smart watches are already out there, but they’re not setting the world on fire just yet. As The Guardian’s Charles Arthur reports today, there’s less than half a million smart wearables in use in the UK today – that’s half the penetration of the dedicated fitness devices like the Nike Fuelband and the Jawbone Fitbit.

In the US, 70% of people have heard of wearables – but just one in six are actually using them.

The Apple in the room

Of course, some of this is that the world is waiting to see what Apple will do. That can be a foolish thing to do – look how long rumours have been circulating of an Apple TV set, with nothing to show for them. Yes, we still hear persistent rumours that Apple is working on something in this area – and some recent hires seem to support that idea.

What’s interesting about all this is that, in recent years, Apple hasn’t really show much inclination to just reinvent what’s there, as these Android devices do with the watch. The iPhone was a fundamental rethink of the phone, not a smarter version of what came before. It was, in form and essence, a handheld computer than could function as a phone. The iPad rejected the form and input methods of previous tablet attempts to focus entirely on touch.

What then will their wearable be (if such a thing is coming)? Will it really be as simple as an iWatch – a wrist mounted computer that happens to tell the time? Or could is be something – or a range of somethings – completely different. The reality is that precious few people know, outside of the elite few with access to Jony Ive’s notoriously locked-down design workshops.

Wearable Limbo

That leaves the wearables market in something of a limbo, as this week’s Joy of Tech points out. Until Apple makes its move, there will be a lot of people waiting to see what it does, and that will hold back the development of the market for a while.

Personally, as cool as these Android devices look, I’m rather hoping that Apple will manage to spring another surprise on us, and give us a whole new way of looking at wearables. And I’ll wait a while to see what that might be. But like an awful lot of tech-curious customers, I won’t wait forever…