Countdown clock suggests new Pebble product next week

It looks as though on Tuesday at 7am PT next week Pebble will announce…. something.

pebble countdown

I’m basing that the not very subtle countdown ticker currently on Pebble’s home page. Based on the time remaining, we have five days to figure out, speculate and predict what’s happening with Pebble. But we’re not completely in the dark.

It was just a few weeks ago that Pebble CEO, Eric Migicovsky, said the company would have both new hardware and software later this year. The current Pebble watches haven’t seen a major hardware upgrade yet — at least not from an internals standpoint — so a new product with more sensors and perhaps voice command capabilities wouldn’t surprise me.

Hardware is the easy part to predict though; Migicovsky’s comments about the software for a new Pebble product are far more intriguing. “It doesn’t look like what we have today, and it doesn’t look like what’s on your smartphone,” Migicovsky told The Verge, adding that apps will be part of the product, but not the focus.

That suggests to me that some type of contextual interface along with health-tracking, but of course, that’s just an educated guess. As it stands now, with the latest software update, the current Pebble watch can interact with Android Wear notifications but it lacks many of the other features found in [company]Google[/company]’s smartwatch platform. I can perform a search or ask for my agenda by voice on the Smartwatch 3 I bought; not so on the Pebble.

Regardless, we’ll have to wait at least five more days to find out what Pebble has in store for your wrist. Let the speculation begin!

Oh, look: An Android Wear watch that looks like a watch

LG was Google’s primary hardware partner to develop the first Android Wear smartwatch last year and now it’s taking the next step to make the devices look more fashionable. On Monday, LG previewed the LG Watch Urbane: A digital smartwatch with the design of an analog timepiece.

lg watch urbane gold

The “all metal, luxury” Urbane will debut at next month’s Mobile World Congress, LG said in a release, and it borrows from the display technology in LG’s current round [company]Google[/company] Android Wear watch, the LG G Watch R. The same 1.3-inch circular plastic OLED screen from that model is used for the Urbane, as are the same internal chips, battery and sensors.

From a design standpoint, however, the look is modernized with a thinner, stainless steel body finished in either gold or silver and a leather strap in your choice of black or brown. Any 22-millimeter watch band can be substituted on the Urbane.

Although one could argue that the Moto 360 was the first Android Wear device to most closely resemble a traditional watch, there were still clues that it was a digital timepiece — the small chunk of the screen that doesn’t show anything, for example. You can’t really say the same about the LG Watch Urbane. It resembles a traditional watch but offers the functionality of Android Wear inside, which is an important step for the platform: Consumers want watches that look like watches, not small smartphones on their wrist.

Why Android Wear shipments aren’t surprising (or disappointing)

Wow. There are quite a few people talking about yesterday’s Canalys estimate of 720,000 Android Wear shipments in the last six months of 2014. And most of that talk is ridiculous, with little to no perspective on the market itself. All of the doom and gloom I’m reading about Android Wear may yet come to pass, but to base it on shipment data at this point in time is premature for several reasons.

How about the timing?

First up, when did Android Wear watches start shipping? The platform and first devices were announced in early 2014 but only became available on June 25 when orders began for the LG G-Watch and Samsung Gear Live. So the last six months of Android Wear shipments were also the first six months of shipments. This is essentially a brand new market.

moto 360

And not even all of the Android Wear watches shipped for the full six months. Case in point: [company]Google[/company] showed off the Moto 360 at its June Google I/O event — the crowd went wild — but you couldn’t actually get one until September 4 when the round timepiece was launched. LG added a round watch of its own, the G-Watch R, in November, and Asus debuted its ZenWatch that same month. The point? Some Android Wear hardware partners only had two months or less of shipments in 2014.

Crazy comparisons

Here’s something I can’t understand at all: The comparisons between Android Wear shipments and recent [company]Apple[/company] iPhone sales. What do these two products have to do with each other? Hint: Nothing. But that didn’t stop the comparisons from happening. Here’s one from the Wall Street Journal, placed very high in the story:

By comparison, Apple sold roughly 114 million iPhones over the same period. That means Apple sold almost as many iPhones each day as makers of Android smartwaches shipped over the six months.

For starters, the comparison is looking at a standalone computing device in the iPhone compared to an accessory to a smartphone with Android Wear. If that wasn’t bad enough, it looks at data between the market for an eight-year old product and one that’s less than a year old. Yes, smartwatches have been around for longer than six months, but Android Wear as a product hasn’t. Frankly, it’s ludicrous to even mention the iPhone in the first place when having a conversation about Android Wear.

Tempering expectations

To be honest, we really didn’t need to wait for Canalys to give us an idea of how many Android Wear watches are out in the wild. All we had to do was look at Google Play. Why? Because Android Wear watches are companions to Android phones and those phones need the Android Wear app installed for the watches to get notifications, apps and data. A quick check of the Android Wear app in Google Play shows between 500,000 and 1 million installs, a range that certainly jives with Canalys’s data.

android wear installs

Less than one million Android Wear devices shipped (or sold, for that matter) shouldn’t be surprising, then. I think the surprise factor comes from those who haven’t seen the Android Wear app install numbers combined with expectations of Apple Watch sales. I’ve seen figures in the tens of millions for Apple’s product, which starts shipping in April. If you compare these Apple Watch sales expectations with 720,000 Android Wear devices, sure, there’s bound to be disappointment. But why don’t we wait and see the actual figures before proclaiming that nobody wants an Android Wear watch?

Android Wear v. Pebble

I also saw some Android Wear shipment comparisons to Pebble, and those make a little more sense but still need some context. Pebble shipped its one millionth watch by the end of 2014. One million is more than 720,000 so that’s better, right? Yes and no.

Pebble has been around a bit longer than Android Wear, having raised more than $10 million in a Kickstarter campaign that ended on May 18, 2012. The first watches started shipping in January 2013, so it took Pebble two full years to reach the million shipments; it sold 300,000 in the first year. And two aspects of the Pebble actually give it broader appeal compared to Android Wear.

pebble steel and galaxy gear

Android Wear is limited to working with Android devices, while the Pebble works with both Apple iOS and Google Android. Right off the bat, Pebble can attract buyers who use iPhones. The price of admission for Android Wear is also roughly double that of the Pebble. You can now buy a Pebble for $79, for example, while the least expensive Android Wear device is $199 and works its way up to $249.

It’s too soon for the gloom and doom

Put all of this together and what do you get? The premature death of Android Wear.

We’re talking about a limited market, since this is an accessory device that’s completely optional and may not appeal to every Android device owner. In that regard, the smartwatch market will never exceed that of smartphones, provided these remain companion devices.

Not only are Android Wear watches not needed or wanted by all Android phone owners, but they’re more expensive than similar products. The pricing doesn’t fall into the “impulse purchase” category, particularly when the watches replicated much, if not all, of the functionality found in the smartphone you already own. Heck, out of the 4.6 million smart wearable bands that Canalys says shipped last year, one million of them were Xiaomi Mi bands which you can nab for $20 or less but don’t have any smartphone notification support or apps.

mi-band

And Android Wear is still an infant. There haven’t been many software updates yet and the number of apps for the watches is still pretty limited. Google Now is super handy on the wrist and one of my favorite features, but again: It’s simply the same implementation from the Android phone moved to a watch. Android Wear still has room to grow as a platform; my Sony Smartwatch 3, for example, has integrated Wi-Fi but that radio hasn’t yet been enabled in Android Wear.

Google smartwatch platform isn’t perfect (by far) nor will it appeal to everyone. But let’s give Android Wear watches more time to grow up, gain features that consumers feel they must have on their wrist and come down in price before we decide it’s a loser.

720,000 Android Wear smartwatches shipped in second half of 2014

Smartwatches might get a lot of attention, but it’s important to remember they’re still a new product category, and not a real commercial force yet. Case in point: A new report from Canalys indicates that only 720,000 Android Wear devices were shipped after the platform launched in June, and those devices had the might of Google and some of the world’s biggest hardware makers behind them.

According to Canalys, which drew data from its internal quarterly market tracking service, the Motorola’s Moto 360 smartwatch was the “clear leader” among the six Android Wear smartwatches currently available. The report also noted that the round LG G Watch R performed significantly better than its squarer sibling.

Although 720,000 might seem like a large number, let’s put this in perspective: It really appears that mainstream consumers don’t want or don’t understand why they should want a smartwatch. It’s also worth noting that iPhone owners can’t use Android Wear devices, which eliminates a lot of potential customers.

Apple said recently it sold 34,000 iPhones per hour during the past quarter — which means it sold more iPhones on average in a single day than six different Android Wear smartwatches did in half a year. Pebble has sold 1 million smartwatches over the life of the company, including an estimated 600,000 units between last March and December, but remember, Pebble is a startup. It used to be a Kickstarter and it didn’t get revealed at Google’s annual developer’s conference.

Also consider that the Canalys numbers measure units shipped, not units sold. It’s possible there are a few Samsung Gear Live smartwatches languishing on Best Buy shelves waiting for a clearance sale.

The smartwatch market will change markedly once Apple enters it in earnest. Nobody really knows how many smartwatches Apple is going to sell when Apple Watch launches sometime this April. Estimates range from a few million in its first year all the way up to 30 million units shipped in 2015. Apple inspires such dedication that there are going to be people who purchase — even line up for — Apple Watch, regardless of features, performance, or reviews, and this latest data point indicates it’s very possible that there will be more Apple Watches sold in its first day of availability than the total number of smartwatches running Google’s Android Wear platform.

Bloomberg: HTC to launch a smartwatch in March

HTC is planning to launch its first smartwatch in March alongside a new flagship phone, Bloomberg reported on Monday. HTC has been tipped several times to be in the process of developing a smartwatch over the past few years, and the Taiwanese company was listed as an official Android Wear partner when Google announced the program, although it has yet to produce a wearable product for commercial sale.

The Bloomberg report noted that the new high-end HTC phone will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 processor, have a 20-megapixel rear camera and a front-facing camera using HTC’s UltraPixel sensor. Sound will be provided by Dolby-capable front-facing speakers. The device should have fitness tracking capabilities through a partnership with Under Armor’s fitness service. Those specs match up with previous leaks describing the [company]HTC[/company] device reportedly codenamed “Hima.” The Bloomberg story also appears to indicates that this new phone has been using HTC’s existing code-naming convention, and could be sold under the moniker HTC One M9.

Unfortunately, Bloomberg didn’t share as much about the forthcoming HTC smartwatch — such as what software it runs. A year ago, HTC previewed several wearable devices, including one model based on Qualcomm’s Toq reference design, and one smartwatch “using Google Now” that sounds very similar to Android Wear. Based on HTC being listed by [company]Google[/company] as one of the first five Android Wear hardware partners, it’s likely that what HTC is cooking up is based on Google’s smartwatch software. CNET reported last year that HTC will “likely use an altered version of Android Wear” that includes “different elements and features” for its first smartwatch.

HTC Re camera

HTC Re camera

A smartwatch would make a lot of sense for HTC next new product, as the company has been diversifying its product lineup past smartphones. So far, HTC’s started producing tablets, such as the Nexus 9, and handheld cameras. In 2014, HTC launched the Re, a screen-free action camera largely controlled by a smartphone. HTC has given every indication it expects to launch more standalone cameras in the future.

In December, HTC announced its first quarterly profit in three years, but it was slim and full-year revenue fell.

The LG WebOS smartwatch is real, and reportedly launching in 2016

Thanks to a connected car demo from Audi at CES in Las Vegas on Wednesday, you can take a look at LG’s newest smartwatch, which is running WebOS.

Android Central and the Verge were at the [company]Audi[/company] demo, where the watch was used to call a self-driving car to the stage. The most unusual aspect of the watch’s physical design is the three crowns and buttons on the right side. Android Wear doesn’t require a physical button, and the unreleased Apple Watch has one dial and one button. The interface in the short video above certainly doesn’t look like the WebOS seen on old Palm devices or on LG TVs.

Audi told Android Central the watch used in the demo is a prototype, so there will probably be changes before it hits the market. The device strongly resembles the LG G Watch R, an Android Wear device that was launched in late 2014. It’s the same size, and has a similar etched bezel.

LG’s WebOS smartwatch plans were first outed back in October when a few images depicting the WebOS developer program were briefly posted on the LG developer website. LG originally picked up the WebOS operating system in 2013 after HP decided it wasn’t part of its future, even though it spent $1.2 billion to buy Palm.

As reported by Gigaom’s Janko Rogetters, [company]LG[/company] didn’t know what to do with WebOS at first. The team behind WebOS was based in Silicon Valley, but LG’s corporate headquarters, in Korea, consistently overruled it, especially on interface design and hiring new engineers. It’s not clear whether the Silicon Valley office or another LG office is behind the development of this new smartwatch.

The Wall Street Journal reported that you can expect the WebOS smartwatch “early next year.” By that time, Android Wear will be nearly two years old, and millions of people will have bought an Apple Watch. WebOS might be too little, too late, yet again.

ces-2015-3

New Android Wear smartwatches may use MediaTek chips

Most Android Wear smartwatches currently on the market are based around Qualcomm chips, but that could change soon if MediaTek has its way: The Taiwainese semiconductor company announced a new chip specially for smartwatches on Wednesday.

The MediaTek MT2601 system-on-a-chip is based around a dual-core processor using ARM’s Cortex-A7 design. It uses an ARM Mali 400 design for its GPU, and MediaTek’s MT6630 modem for Bluetooth. [company]MediaTek[/company] says it works “with a whole host of external sensors” — so hardware makers can add modules for heart-rate monitoring and GPS.

Except for the Motorola Moto 360, which uses a TI chip, all Android Wear smartwatches currently on sale use a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC, which also powers a good deal of mid-range phones. The Snapdragon 400 wasn’t designed for wearable computers, and sometimes it shows. For instance, the Snapdragon 400 usually uses four Cortex-A7 cores, but it appears that manufacturers disable three of the cores to conserve battery life.

Most Android Wear buyers aren’t looking for raw computing power, so they’d rather have a smartwatch with a better battery life. Hopefully, MediaTek’s new SoC with a small die size will bring improved battery life, and given MediaTek’s history of driving device prices down, possibly less expensive Android Wear smartwatches as well. The MT2601 is in mass production now, so conceivably it could be in commercial smartwatches before too long.

ces-2015-3

Sony SmartWatch 3 goes on sale at Google Play for $250

SOny-Smartwatch

Google Play started selling Sony’s sports-focused take on Android Wear on Monday for $249.99, which means five of the six officially announced Android Wear smartwatches are on sale from Google’s official online store (the Asus ZenWatch is currently only available at Best Buy.) Previously available from Verizon, Sony’s SmartWatch 3 is different from other Android Wear smartwatches in a few key ways: It’s got a built-in GPS sensor as well as a Wi-Fi radio, and doesn’t take traditional watchbands. Instead, you have to use Sony’s rubber bands. If you need help choosing which Android Wear smartwatch is right for you, here’s a handy guide.