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Android Wear Smartwatches: How Smart Are They?

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Smartwatches are one of the most interesting new product categories in consumer technology. But are they getting any smarter?

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Are smartwatches the next big thing in technology?

Not yet, but they're getting better.

Last year, Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) dipped its toe in the water with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which I found more silly than smart.

It was expensive at $299, and ugly. It had a short battery life and very limited smartphone compatibility. Sales were very poor, with news reports indicating a return rate of 30% at Best Buy (NYSE:BBY).

However, with the birth of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android Wear wearables initiative, the category just got a swift kick in the pants and is making serious progress.

The new Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch come in priced at $199 and $229 respectively, and as Android Wear devices, they work with smartphones running Android version 4.3 and above.

So currently, 23.9% of Android users can use Android Wear watches.

.

Some tech industry observers are complaining that this is limiting, but it's not a problem.

The average candidate for a smartwatch is a serious techie who's looking to get the latest and greatest of everything. These people are almost certainly running recent Android phones with updated operating systems.

Now, are the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch likely to sell well?

I doubt it.

Here's why:

In terms of buzz, the Motorola Moto 360, which isn't out yet, is in the top spot right now.

And why?

Because it doesn't look like a smartwatch. It just looks like a nice watch:






Now here's Samsung's Gear Live:



And LG's G Watch:


The Moto 360 looks like it accomplishes the key task of blending in.

Ostentatious wearable gadgets are still iffy in terms of public acceptance -- look at all the outrage/laughs directed at Google Glass.



Now while the Moto 360 is likely to outsell the Samsung Gear Live and LG G watch, what about the category as a whole?

Near-term, smartwatches are likely to remain challenged.

Device quality is clearly an issue.

According to reviews, both Samsung's and LG's entries are short on battery life, and the screens don't work well in direct sun. Time will tell whether the Moto 360 is any better.

And again, there's still a big public-acceptance issue. Potential buyers may be turned off by the appearance of these smartwatches, and/or intimidated by a perceived complexity in operating a smartwatch.

The ideal case for Google here is that the Moto 360 turns out to be a breakthrough device that thrusts smartwatches into the mainstream, the way Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) created the modern smartphone market with the iPhone.

While we're on the topic of Apple, let's quickly talk about the iWatch, which doesn't exist.

Should Apple introduce a watch, it will be very good news for Google because Apple legitimizes product classes in the minds of consumers.

Apple didn't invent the touchscreen smartphone, tablet, or MP3 player. But Apple did take them mainstream, opening the doors for competitors like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Samsung, Google, Motorola, and Sony (NYSE:SNE).

I was hoping to get through life without using the phrase "win-win," but an Apple iWatch really would be a... well, you know.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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Author holds position in AAPL
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