Wearable gadgets not ready for prime time, tech watchers say

Jan 10 2014, 19:57 IST
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A Sony SmartWatch2 is displayed during the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. (Reuters) A Sony SmartWatch2 is displayed during the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. (Reuters)
SummaryDespite the hoopla, wearable gadgets are unlikely to make a splash with consumers anytime soon.

Despite the hoopla, wearable gadgets like wristwatches for checking your text messages or eyeglasses that capture video are unlikely to make a splash with consumers anytime soon, given the clumsy designs, high prices and technological constraints of many of the current offerings.

That is the conclusion drawn by many industry executives and analysts who trolled the vast exhibition halls of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Most of the wearable products on display at the industry's premier showcase looked like awkward attempts to shoehorn technology into new forms without an original or compelling benefit for the wearer, skeptics say.

Stacy Rasgon, a semiconductor analyst at Bernstein, spent a day at CES busily snapping photos of every fitness band, watch and other wearable device he came across.

"I have 20 different photos, but if I look at the pictures I couldn't tell you which product is from which vendor. They all look the same," Rasgon said. "Wearables sound like a great idea and there's going to be a lot of experimentation. People are throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks."

Sony Corp, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Qualcomm Inc showed off new or recently launched smartwatches, most of which act as extensions to cellphones, letting users check messages and appointments. Wristbands - like the popular Fitbit that tracks physical activity - also accounted for a big chunk of the devices on display at CES.

"For wearables to finally match up with the hype, (they have) to be a true solution, where it isn't about the technology - it's about what the technology enables you to do, something you couldn't do before," said Mike Bell, the senior executive leading Intel Corp's wearables push.

"The function, form and experience have to be as important as the parts you slap inside," he said.

Intel this week unveiled its take on wearables that Bell believes serve a clear purpose and could catch on, including prototype earbuds with a built-in heart rate monitor that changes the music on a smartphone to keep pace with a workout. It also announced a collaboration with luxury department store Barneys New York to develop smart bracelets intended to look like they were dreamed up by a fashion designer - not an engineer.

The wearables mania gripping the industry is in part a response to slowing smartphone and tablet markets. After growing 39 percent in 2013, global smartphone shipments are forecast to expand by

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