Wearables make a splash at CES 2014, but might not be ready for mass appeal

LAS VEGAS--Wearable computers were seemingly everywhere at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, popping up in keynotes and at booths, in the form of watches, earbuds, bracelets bands and others. However, according to analysts and executives, many of them are not quite ready for prime time in terms of function and style.

sony smartwatch 2

Sony's SmartWatch 2 was among a wide range of smart watches at CES.

High prices and clunky design likely will keep consumers from snapping up wearables en masse this year, according to analysts. The appeal of wearables--or lack thereof--also will likely come down to how much unique value wearables can bring to consumers.

Stacy Rasgon, a semiconductor analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, told Reuters he 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."

The long-range picture might be rosier though. Research firm Juniper Research has forecasted that the retail revenue from smart wearable devices, including smart watches and glasses, will reach $19 billion by 2018 compared with $1.4 billion in 2013.

In the here and now, smart watch makers in particular are giving each other intense competition without much clear, discernible differentiation. The likes of Burg Limited, Cookoo, Sonostar, Kronoz, Metawatch, and Neptune Pin are competing with better-known companies such as Pebble, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Samsung Electronics and Sony.

"We're still in the experimental stages of the wearable market," Broadcom CTO Henry Samueli told the New York Times. "But at some point one of them will stick and consumers are going to love them, and everyone else is going to copy it."

Many designs are also clunky. Forrester Research analyst J. P. Gownder told the Times that "traditional tech companies don't do well with fashion," and will need to consult with fashion companies as wearables evolve.

Some companies like FitBit and Nike are trying to hone in specific use cases, especially around health and fitness. Epson's new connected wristband, for example, can measure heart rate by using light to measure red blood cell count in the wrist, according to the Times. The device, Pulsense, costs $200 and also has motion sensors that track the number of footsteps a person takes.

Anna Jen, director for new ventures for Epson, said the gadget was aimed at people interested in tracking health closely. "Sometimes when I look at the numbers and I realize I'm a little bit stressed, I'll take a few minutes to breathe, walk around and get a drink of water," she told the Times. "That's really what our Pulsense products are designed to do."

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this NYT article

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