Unlike recent Mobile World Congresses, wearables developments of consequence were in short supply this year in Barcelona.
Aside from the Huawei Watch 2 launch (a long awaited 4G successor to the Huawei Watch which I cover below), Strategy Analytics advises smartwatch followers to keep a closer eye on Baselworld (March 23-30) for additional important smartwatch announcements coming from traditional wrist-wear players.
Smartglasses and AR/VR also took on noticeably less importance in MWC 2017 as compared to last year. The same goes for fitness bands, which as a category that has begun to approach commodity status, were items that one had to actively seek out in order to see in the exhibits halls.
Chinese powerhouse Huawei served up the standout wearables product announcement at MWC 2017 The company at long last unveiled the successor to the top-ranked Huawei Watch.
A year ago the story was Huawei’s focus on “bling-ier” iterations of the original Huawei Watch. Fast forward to one later and the Huawei Watch 2 - like the successful Apple Watch Series 2 and acclaimed Samsung Gear S3 - is now just the latest smartwatch to tack heavily towards fitness and health. Be it the Classic, Sport or Porsche Design Edition designs, this is true in terms of the functions Huawei has added and the sporty/rugged design language Huawei adopted. However, unlike the Gear S3, the prominent bezel is fixed (read: plays zero role in the UI) and sits well above a noticeably recessed and comparatively small 1.2 inch round display. This is a design choice that may arguably detract from the smooth edge swipe-ability as compared to other flush screen designs. On the other hand, smaller displays can prolong battery life, and this will be key as the device impressively adds autonomous GPS and 4G connectivity to be highly competitive. This smartwatch also leverages the benefits of Android Wear 2.0, which we believe ups Google’s game in smartwatches.
The 4G equipped Huawei Watch 2, as shown above, will also get a boost from the operator channel where we expect it to do moderately well. Orange will put the multi-SIM capable Huawei Watch 2 on offer, touting single number reachability via the subscriber’s primary phone number.
Meanwhile, from the Swiss perspective, MyKronos used MWC to launched an interesting and very well designed MyKronos ZeTime. This is a device that manages to offer both mechanical hour and minute hands (for perpetual time reading), overlaid onto a TFT color touchscreen. The watch claims to run an impressive 30 days between charges, but unfortunately lacks the benefits of an app ecosystem. That said, it is Baselworld, the annual watch show in Switzerland next month, that we expect will bring more announcements from traditional watch players such as Fossil, who has left the software to Android Wear to make a real competitive splash in the smartwatch space. TAG Heuer is also expected to launch an updated Intel-powered Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch with interchangeable heads such that the wearer can swap out for classic mechanical movement at will. And Swatch may also unveil products based on its new “Swiss OS” that we examined when it was announced earlier this year.
From the Finnish perspective, the dramatic resurgence of the Nokia brand at MWC 2017 also extended to wearables. The company announced that all Withings products across the board – be it a home blood pressure monitor, fashionable “Steel” activity tracker watch, or home camera - will carry the venerable Nokia name moving forward. Perhaps more importantly Nokia took the wraps off of its HIPAA-compliant Patient Care Platform, which aims for better sharing of health data between doctors and their patients. While Google and Apple have both made well received investments into Healthcare platforms, the existing Nokia/Withings range of products give Nokia an interesting health device edge to go after medical analytics and remote patient monitoring where the proven positive ROI and patient outcomes can make for a bright future. Also, enduring Finnish OS player Jolla showed a ported version of its Sailfish OS it has loaded onto smartwatches designed to run Android Wear -- mostly as a proof-of-concept. First rumored in Q4 2016, Sailfish running on an LG Urbane was further revealed at MWC 2017.
Lastly, Artificial Intelligence is something that Strategy Analytics believes will ultimately emerge a great enabler of the smartwatches and smartglasses, and was a standout theme at MWC 2017. AI capabilities were central to a number of key product announcements at the show as well as a standing room only panel on AI Chatbots and Virtual Assistants that I moderated. Moving the ball forward in AI is an overarching catalyst for wearables which presently depends on delivering highly relevant contextual data through a very narrow channel to people’s wrists.