Not so long ago, smartwatches were only owned by people who loved niche gadgets. However, thanks to the popularity of smartwatches designed by mega-brands such as Apple, the smartwatch market is taking off and becoming more solidified in the mainstream consciousness.
A Gartner report that forecasts growth in the wearables market and breaks down its forecast by the type of units sold indicates the projected sale of 48.20 million smartwatches in 2018 — up from the 41.50 million forecasted for 2017.
Due to the anticipated continual popularity of these high-tech watches, it is likely manufacturers will continue to drive consumer interest in new technologies. There are several that will likely gain momentum this year and beyond.
1. Modular Smartwatches
Most of today’s popular smartwatches include features like heart rate monitors, sleep trackers and compasses — but it’s usually not possible to request a significant amount of customization for a particular smartwatch. In other words, if a person does not want a certain feature and knows they will rarely or never use it, there’s no way to buy the watch without it.
That could change when modular smartwatches arrive this year, with a brand called Blocks being the first company out of the starting gate. People first became aware of modular smartwatches at the CES 2015 conference. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, it seemed like it wouldn’t be long before people started seeing these watches on the wrists of friends and neighbors.
The company had problems shipping the watches to backers on time, though. The first batch of shipments was supposed to arrive to Kickstarter pledgers in October 2016, but they actually didn’t get sent out until September 2017.
However, it seems like the kinks have finally been worked out. At CES 2018, the company confirmed it was ready to start selling its modular smartwatches to customers.
When buying a Blocks smartwatch, people start with the Blocks Core, which is the main component of the gadget. It sells for $259. Next, they add links — or modules — to the watchband to expand its features. The company’s website advertises several modules available to buy now, with two other “phases” of options to buy in the future.
Currently, available choices include an LED flashlight with a strobe feature, a “smart button” touch sensor and GPS capability. Users can also purchase a module with an extra battery. It adds up to 25 percent more power to the initial battery’s two-day lifespan.
It’s no secret that people like to customize their purchases, whether buying monogrammed mobile phone cases or coffee mugs with favorite family photos on the side.
If the modular concept gains momentum in the larger market this year after its successful showing on Kickstarter, manufacturers could realize it’s worthwhile to give people more ways to customize their smartwatches, thereby starting to mimic the modular design.
2. Charging-Free Smartwatches
People are used to standard wristwatches that can run for years before needing new batteries. That’s why some of them are frustrated by the fact that many smartwatches can only run for days before requiring recharge sessions.
Because individuals are so dependent on their timepieces, the prospect of charging one — even overnight — isn’t appealing. It’s too easy to potentially leave a fully charged smartwatch connected to its power source at home before going away for the day.
With these things in mind, there’s an increase in manufacturers working hard to come up with smartwatches that don’t need charging.
There’s the LunaR, a solar smartwatch with a transparent face. After exposing it to sunlight or artificial light for an hour a day, users can rest assured the watch will keep working and that it doesn’t ever need charging. It offers visual and vibrating notifications, a sleep monitoring feature and dual time zone capability among its perks.
This watch is still raising money on crowdfunding sites. However, it’s also sold directly on the manufacturer’s website with an expected shipping timeframe of May 2018.
The MATRIX PowerWatch X is also expected to be a major player in the market segment representing smartwatches that don’t need charging. It already earned coverage from tech-savvy bloggers back in 2016 when they saw the obvious potential for a charge-free smartwatch. But like most pioneering products, it took time to perfect the watch and make it ready for the wider market.
Unlike the LunaR, this watch features thermoelectric technology that relies on your body heat to keep the watch going. It’s also the only smartwatch with a power meter that shows wearers how much energy they generate, similar to the regenerative braking monitors on electric cars.
When a person takes off the MATRIX PowerWatch X, it goes into a sleep mode but saves the individual’s data. Then, when it goes back on the wearer’s wrist, the gadget picks up where it left off as if the owner never removed it.
This accessory also uses the aforementioned thermoelectric technology to track calories burned. Due to that feature, it’s an ideal option for people on the move or those trying to get fitter. It’s water-resistant up to 200 meters, too, which is an incredible amount of protection for a smartwatch.
Manufacturers also aim to ship the MATRIX PowerWatch X in May 2018. Together with the LunaR, it could signal a changing trend where people significantly prefer smartwatches that don’t need charging to those fitted with rechargeable batteries.
If that happens, manufacturers may realize that making shipping their products with charging cables is an outdated approach. Instead, they’ll need to look more closely at designing watches that charge with readily available environmental or bodily resources.
As a result, the need for regular charging — one of the factors that stop some people from purchasing smartwatches — could become a thing of the past.
3. Hybrid and Mechanical Smartwatches
Most of the smartwatches that come to mind when people think of them have digital displays. However, many consumers realize they appreciate the non-analog functionalities those devices offer, but they still like the traditional familiarity of watches with hands that move. The LunaR watch mentioned above is one option that combines digital and analog functionality, making it a so-called hybrid watch. And, market analysts expect the hybrid trend will continue.
A forecast from Juniper Research expects a 460 percent growth in the hybrid smartwatch market between 2017 and 2022 for units shipped. The report clarifies that wearables in that category are not likely to ever achieve widespread appeal, but there is a strong niche market that’ll ensure they remain prominent as possibilities to buy.
In addition, a watch called the Hybrid Manufacture by Frederique Constant is marketed as the “world’s first mechanical smartwatch.” It features a patented self-winding mechanism inside, along with a 42-hour battery reserve. This product has no external visual features that distinguish it from a wholly analog wrist accessory.
Along with moving hands and a crown-adjustable date display, the watch includes a fitness tracker and sleep-monitoring feature. Moreover, the Bluetooth capability sends the watch’s data to a user’s smartphone screen at the push of a button.
This watch is not yet available on the manufacturer’s website, and the accompanying apps haven’t been released for download. However, since the gadget is getting a substantial amount of press coverage, it’s likely people will be able to buy it sometime this year.
For people who prefer less uncertainty as far as whey they can purchase and start wearing a hybrid watch, the Simble is another option. It completed an Indiegogo campaign in September 2017 and boasts the world’s longest battery life.
Like some of the watches mentioned above, it also doesn’t need charging, but that’s only because the Simble has a button-style, disposable power source inside.
The Simble’s designers say the battery lasts for 250 days. Also, this waterproof watch automatically syncs with different time zones as needed.
Furthermore, its designers note that the lack of constant notifications and bright LED numerals are positive aspects that set the Simble apart from other smartwatches. To be clear, the Simble does provide notifications on request. However, users can choose the kinds they want to get.
There’s sapphire glass across the accessory’s face as well, which is reportedly 15 times stronger than other types of watch coverings and is sometimes used for windows. Other watch manufacturers, including Rolex, incorporate it into their products.
Purchasers who do want some smartwatch functionality won’t be disappointed with the Simble. It tracks sleep patterns and activity levels, plus it has a heart rate monitor and Bluetooth connectivity.
There’s a cool camera-connectivity feature, too. The Simble can communicate with a smartphone’s picture-taking application. When a person shakes their wrist while wearing the Simble, that action triggers the camera to activate and snap a picture.
These three trends indicate there’s a lot to look forward to in 2018’s smartwatch market. Finally, concepts that were only seen as prototypes or not even thought of in previous years are becoming realities and catering to the needs of discerning consumers who are interested in smartwatches but feeling picky about the features they want most.