Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ignore Wearables - You don't need them

'Wearable Technology.' The buzzwords of 2014, the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2015. Tech companies are pushing 'wearables' in the direction of consumers and saying, "That'll work, they love this stuff". But do they? Do consumers really want it? The signs are suggesting no, not yet.

Firstly, I'm not including fitness bands in this. Fitness bands have a proven purpose and have sold relatively well. Other wearables, however, are still in 'geek' territory. People like me, into my tech, want wearables, simply to pick apart about how amazing some aspects of the technology are, and how woeful the rest is. Google cancelled Glass through little more important than a growing lack of interest. They felt they couldn't make it work for the moment.

Smartwatch sales are frankly, very poor. Pebble have had limited success with 1m sales in just over 2 years and so have Samsung (mainly because the watches are given away with Galaxy devices). Maybe the introduction of the Apple Watch will change that. Apple has a habit of doing making something currently available, copying it, and making it desirable.



The immediate reaction from consumers has been quite clearly - we don't really care. The intrigue isn't there, and it is just lost on the mass audience. Research by Fizz (below) shows a few problems for wearable manufacturers:

Firstly, the average price willing to be paid is far below the current price of wearable tech. Many Android Wear devices cost somewhere north of £200, and if rumours are to be believed, the iWatch could cost double that. More than half of those that responded with interest about smartwear mentioned cost would be the deciding factor which will worry manufacturers.

Finally, the purpose issue is of utmost importance. 37% of respondents pointed to a lack of necessity for the devices being the reason for lack of desire.





These items still have failed to find their place in society. There is no need for them. In response to the lack of purpose, wearables are trying to do everything. I use 1% of the Sony Smartwatch 2 capability on a day to day basis. The reviews are relatively useless, when in practice, those features just don't step into everyday life. Nothing has changed since I first wrote about the Samsung Galaxy Gear in 2013. Back then I complimented the smartwatch on its appearance and functionality. I still defend that stance with my 2013 hat on - but really, the smartwatch should have come on a lot since then. They've cracked the appearance element - now just for sorting the need.



(Huawei's new smartwatch - gorgeous)

It's a criticism I levelled at Microsoft with Windows 8 - too much, too fast. We're just reaching the point when smartphones are struggling to progress in innovation, and that needs a chance to settle and allow flagship capabilities seep through to the lower-end.

The smartwatch is an incredible feat, it really is. To cram all that technology into such a small piece of kit is astounding - but that doesn't mean it needs to be forced to consumers who are voting with their wallets.

Wearables will breathe again, but manufacturers need to find out how they can help the consumer before they'll fly off the shelves. For the moment, they might as well be ignored.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Watch the live stream of the Samsung Galaxy S6 launch

We're at the start of MWC - aka smartphone season - and Samsung join Huawei as the first out of the door to announce their new addition to the Galaxy family. Watch the live stream of the Samsung Galaxy S6 launch below. It starts at 5.30 GMT.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

SmartWatch Evolution in Appearance - Not Purpose

It's always nice to be on the money, and thankfully, regarding smartwatches, I have been.

It wasn't long ago that I was writing about the central problem with the smartwatches on the market - was that, first and foremost, they had forgotten to be a watch. I used the first Samsung Galaxy Gear and, whilst enjoying the technology, just couldn't get past the central issue - I didn't really want it on my wrist. 

Let's be honest, the smartwatch is a novelty. It serves no important purpose. Yes, it makes checking notifications that tiny bit quicker, but making £150+ difference to a life? No chance. It's for the people with the disposable income, or want to be on the forefront of technology, or finally, for fashion. It's that last point which is where manufacturers have finally cottoned-on. Us tech geeks are not a mass-market. We're a cynical bunch who are rarely 'fashionistas' so we are able to look past the image, and more at what the thing can do.



So, using my unpenetrable testing criteria for the appearance of the watch, I tested out the Sony Smartwatch 2 through London. Overall, it's only a rare and investigative second-look look that claims the attention of the passer-by. For me, that's the way it should be. It should be a watch, first and foremost, with technology following. I chose the Sony Smartwatch 2 because it looked most like a watch, and not some space-age invention.

With the Moto 360 and Pebble Steel leading the way, manufacturers have caught up. LG G-Watch R followed, and now finally Samsung too, with the Gear S. Obviously, the iWatch too. These watches have stripped back the technology, and focused on design, with more subtle (and more practical) technology.



I use 1% of the Sony Smartwatch 2 capability on a day to day basis. The reviews are relatively useless when in practice, those features just don't step into everyday life. 

Nothing has changed since I first wrote about the Samsung Galaxy Gear in 2013. Back then I complimented the smartwatch on its appearance and functionality. I still defend that stance with my 2013 hat on - but really, the smartwatch should have come on a lot more since then.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Have we really reached a smartphone impasse?

It seems so.

For the first time in several years, smartphones stepped back from the frontline at CES and that's no surprise. Sure, many manufacturers are looking to MWC for smartphone announcements, but over the last two years, we've seen less and less revolutionary changes in smartphones, and more performance tweaks.

Why?

It's a boring phrase, but 2015 IS the year of the wearable tech. Perhaps not for consumers, but certainly for the top-tier manufacturers. The endless wearable uses were shown at CES, and its all focusing around the clamour for that first 'hit' in the wearables market. Of the glasses, watches and fitness bands, no-one has managed to truly capture the public's imagination.




So where does that leave smartphones? Well, the new kids on the block are catching the others but offering little new to market. Look at Xiaomi; impressive company, impressive growth, but are they changing the smartphone? No. They are offering available features in a different shell and at a more affordable price.
     And it's that last point which is important. The price of smartphones is being driven down and less margin available for manufacturers. Given the impasse, consumers are seeing less reason to upgrade on an annual basis, and even sticking with devices for 2-3 years. Smartphones are becoming less of the cash-cow they once were. The annual performance updates and optimisation are in place to save the manufacturer money, and maintain face within the saturated market.

MWC is coming up, and both Samsung and HTC have announced launch dates for their new devices. We expect to see the evolution of Samsung's Galaxy Edge, which is a nice idea, but not greeted with rapture by consumers so far, and HTC will be likely to finely tune the M8. We are confident in neither bringing a drastic update to the smartphone market, but the opportunity is there for a surprise. Let's wait to see about that impasse but the signs are there.

Chances are, we should ignore the HTC One M9, and Samsung Galaxy S6, as that impasse has been reached.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Big challenges await Xiaomi

There's no doubt about it. The new kids on the block are here to stay.

Xiaomi had a standout 2014. Sales of 61.12m smartphones in 2014 brought the company into third place in the smartphone market, only behind Samsung and Apple. In fact, they outsold Samsung and Apple in China during 2014. However, the path they are about to walk isn't a downhill stroll from here, and plenty of obstacles still stand in the way.

Firstly though, how have they managed to jump straight into the race with the top two? Simply put, through targeting emerging markets with a strong pricing model, and getting the right balance of smartphone innovation with consumer-desired basics.

At this point, you might be thinking: "I've never heard of Xiaomi". Well, if you're in a 'Tier 1' nation, then don't be surprised if you don't know much about Xiaomi, or if you've never seen a Xiaomi phone. Also, don't be surprised if that doesn't change soon. Hugo Barra, VP at Xiaomi, said that it'll be a little while before Xiaomi is in a position to take on the UK, the US etc. That's a sensible route forward. To take on the Tier 1 markets, it's all about the brand - and eastern 'budget' brands typically find it harder to break into the market.

The Tier 1 consumer is sceptical of budget brands - and this, matched with a desire for ever-progressive and top range electronics, means that budget isn't a particular selling point. I've said before, phones like Project Ara are commendable, but will struggle to break down the Tier 1 markets on mass. This is because of the same desire for latest technology and brand-new electronics.





This is what Huawei have tried to do, but have stalled in doing so. The brand-strength is not resistant to the stresses of Tier 1 consumers, and brand-presence is the same. Learning from the mistakes of Huawei, and adding a premium effect to the Xiaomi brand is vital in breaking into the Tier 1 markets.

As we saw in 2014, the mid-range pricing was the force when the Tier 1 markets swung. The successes of HTC's Desire range highlighted this, and it's similar with the likes of the iPhone C.
Mid-range smartphones, with low-line or sim-only contracts are where Tier 1 has settled for the time-being.

This doesn't fit with Xiaomi as yet.

2014 was a big year for Xiaomi - and there is no doubt that 2015 will be as well. However, there are big challenges awaiting Xiaomi when they want to push into Tier 1. The main one - can they make the Xiaomi brand resonate with a Tier 1 market? We'll have to wait and see.

Do you agree/disagree? What do you think of the Xiaomi branding, positioning and short-term future?


Friday, 9 January 2015

HTC - Here's To CHA-CHING


Okay, well perhaps the headline is a bit misleading, but it works, right...?

It appears HTC have managed to shore-up their finances - for now at least. The new year brought news of December wrapping-up a third successive profit quarter for HTC, after a seemingly relentless string of negative news for the company.

As I reported at the beginning of last year, HTC were looking to their mid-tier smartphones to drag them out from peril, and it seems to have worked. The reduction in reliance on their top-tier models was in keeping with pressures from a plateau in smartphone innovation at the top-end, allowing a shrinking in the distance between premium and the budget markets - pushed in particular by the Eastern manufacturers. 

The HTC One M8, much like the HTC One M7, was critically acclaimed as industry leading, but HTC's flagship wasn't the hero to drag them out of the fire. It was actually Robin, the next-level down, that HTC can thank. Handsets such as the returning Desire range have performed well in emerging markets.

Companies such as Xiaomi and Huawei are eating away at the market share of the big two (Apple and Samsung) but more importantly, they have been making life extremely difficult for those sharing the 15% left. Xiaomi in particular, are eating away at all the competition with 61m handsets last year, and outsold Apple in Q42014 - not too shabby for a company that started just three years ago. 

It's good to see HTC getting their heads out of the water for the time-being. Moving back to focusing on the quality of products is crucial. This pressure from other manufacturers will only intensify in 2015, and HTC will have to pull something special out of the bag to retain quarterly profits in 2015.

What do you think of HTC's 2015 position? Will it be a similar story this time next year? Comment below or contact me on Twitter: @tomkelk

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

HTC's Re Camera: The GoPro for no-one

My first post in a while - so apologies for that.

A slightly odd one to return with. Many expected HTC's 'something a little different' was an entry into the wearables market with a smartwatch, so it surprised a few when HTC came out with the launch of 'RE', a new portable camera.


Seemingly designed via a combination of the Men in Black memory eraser, an inhaler and ..., HTC's RE Camera has been touted as a Go-Pro challenger - but one to be used by the 'no-pros'. Catchy, right..? But where does it fit against it's competition? Go-Pro are a formidable opposition; with the brand image, aspiration factor and user-base already nailed down. So HTC are quite wise to be openly stating that they are not trying to compete with that market. An HTC exec quite happily shared that if he was going down white water rapids, then he would use a Go-Pro instead.





This then begs the question: is there actually a market for these cameras amongst the everyday population?

And I'm not so sure. I'd argue that people will be thinking 'why buy something like that to achieve the same as my phone'... Fair point. The HTC RE camera doesn't do selfies any better.

So who would actually want this? It sits very comfortably in the 'nice to have' category, and at the $200 price point, that's a problem. It's a significant amount of money for something that hasn't got a particular USP - and looks a little silly to be honest.

Perhaps the live-streaming option (when launched) will make a difference. Still, I'm not sure that's enough of a draw, especially when our phones can do the same thing.

When HTC promised something a little different, they delivered. But that's the problem. It's only a little different. That's just not enough.

Also - don't even get me started on the name...

Thoughts? Agree or disagree? I'd love to hear in the comments below - or get in touch via Twitter: @tomkelk