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Are Smartwatches Already Dead?

Illustration for article titled Are Smartwatches Already Dead?

Do people actually want smartwatches? I'm starting to wonder. The Pebble smartwatch—a phenomenal Kickstarter success story and the darling of tech critics everywhere—has only sold 1 million copies.

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Don't get me wrong, that's fantastic news for Pebble and for anyone with a Pebble on their wrist. One million units means Pebble can keep building watches that find a happy niche. But one million units sounds like jack shit compared to all the attention Pebble's been getting over the past few years. That smartwatches in general have been getting.

Let me put this in perspective. Wearables are ostensibly the new hotness. They're the tech everyone's talking about. And if you want to buy a wearable, you buy a smartwatch. (Because ain't nobody buying Google Glass till they figure the whole Glasshole thing out.) Guess what you find when you go looking for a smartwatch? Pebble. Pebble. Pebble. It's the one everyone recommends. In fact, CNET, The Wirecutter, The Verge and yes, Gizmodo recommend the simple Pebble and Pebble Steel smartwatches over every other fancy wristable out there.

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It feels like more gallons of (figurative) ink has been spilled about the virtues of Pebble—and the company's incredible journey from Kickstarter to Best Buy—than actual smartwatches sold. When was the last time a product was so universally recommended in a category on the tip of everyone's tongue... and yet didn't move loads of product? Despite competition and a love-it-or-hate-it design, the first Android phone only took six months to hit a million. The original Microsoft Zune (yes, the ugly one) took seven months. Pebble started shipping two years ago.

It's still early days for smartwatches. The Apple Watch isn't even out yet, and it's possible that a lot of potential buyers are waiting to see if Apple blows the doors off the smartwatch category as it swoops in for the kill. The Pebble certainly isn't a perfect device, either. I rarely wear one myself. But you couldn't buy the kind of press that Pebble has received for any amount of money, and yet the top smartwatch in the market has only sold one million units right now.

What does it mean when the best smartwatch only sells a million? Is there even a smartwatch market at all? I'm not so sure. And if the Apple Watch flops—due to battery life?—all bets could be off. Maybe this fuse has almost burned down to its firecracker, or maybe we've got a dud on our hands.

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DISCUSSION

The state of the smart watch is pretty much where mp3 players were just before the iPod came out. There were a few options available, but nobody really realized they wanted/needed one until the iPod came along.

Same with the smart phone. Same with tablets.

Pebble and company were at a disadvantage out of the gate, because the Apple watch rumors were already brewing before they came out. Given Apple's track record, I'm willing to bet most people who would want a smart watch have just been biding their time until Apple does their thing, or, like the iPod/iPhone/iPad, don't even know they want a smart watch at all...yet.