In 2017, the Apple Watch became the most important wearable in the world

Apple is victorious in the wearable wars at least for now.
Image: bob al-greene/mashable

The Apple Watch conquered all comers and became the most important wearable in the world in 2017.  

The iPhone maker flexed its muscles to take over the young wearable space in a relatively short period. Apple only released its first smartwatch in April 2015, and its latest, the Series 3, is just the third iteration of the device. 

“Apple has shipped 34.4 million smartwatches worldwide since it entered the category in 2015,” said Canalys analyst Vincent Thielke in an email to Mashable. “In other words, Apple accounts for 51.6 percent of all smartwatches ever shipped.” 

These numbers comes from Canalys’ estimates, not an official tabulation from Apple itself, since the company doesn’t publicize total Apple Watch sales — but the estimates still point to dominance in the wearables space, where smartwatches currently reign supreme

The Apple Watch’s success is certainly a result of the company’s status as one of the most popular (and valuable) brands in the world, but it wasn’t Apple’s branding presence alone that made it the wearable king in 2017. 

Third time’s the charm

The biggest reason Apple won the wearable war this year was the realization of the Apple Watch’s potential as a standalone device. 

The addition of LTE connectivity finally showed skittish consumers that the company was willing to cut the link between the smartwatch and the iPhone. Standalone functionality has long been a point of contention for those who couldn’t justify such an expensive device that only served as an extension of the smartphone in their pocket.

That new feature appears to have paid off. Demand for the new Series 3 devices has reportedly outpaced supply, and Apple is primed to sell even more in 2018 as it brings more devices to market. 

Apple isn’t the first with smartwatch with LTE connectivity — LG and Samsung have both released their own standalone devices — but Apple’s market clout helped the feature make more of an impact. Thielke thinks the brand was helped by its strong ties with all of the major wireless carriers, which he said has been essential to showcase the new functionalities.

The Apple Watch Series 3.

Image:  LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

Another of the keys to Apple’s success has been its ability to expand its focus beyond fitness and into wider health categories. 

“We’re flipping the page and looking at health,” IDC Research Manager Ramon Llamas told Mashable on a phone call. “People want to know more about themselves and how they can lead a better life.” 

Llamas said an industry-wide focus on health features is giving consumers more value and functionality than the simplistic fitness trackers that once dominated the market, and Apple is leading the charge.

The company teamed up with Stanford researchers for a heart health research study, and the FDA just cleared a mobile electrocardiogram (EKG) band accessory for the Apple Watch from AliveCor. Apple’s top-secret health facility is centered around collecting data for the smartwatch, and rumors about Tim Cook sporting a special glucose-tracking prototype could hint at even more revolutionary features.  

Thinning of the herd

But the Series 3 isn’t perfect. The device is expensive, and a monthly data plan costs extra on top of the already steep purchase price. Apple even admitted in a rare moment of fallibility there was a glitch in how the service worked at launch, although the issue has since been fixed.

The Apple Watch’s shortcomings were trivial compared to the issues faced by other wearable makers during 2017. Competitors faced bigger challenges throughout the year, and some were eliminated from the space entirely. 

Fitbit began the year with layoffs and didn’t release the smartwatch CEO James Park promised until October, while old stalwarts like Jawbone, Motorola, and TomTom totally killed off their operations at various points. Android Wear, meanwhile, is a mess that got no better with version 2.0, which was released in February.

More skirmishes on the horizon

Just because Apple won the war in 2017 doesn’t mean that other companies are totally eliminated from relevancy. Llamas isn’t fully convinced of Apple’s dominance, or if its reign will be permanent. 

“We’re still only talking about a couple million units quarter in and quarter out,” he said. The war might be over, so to speak, but there’s room for other companies to carve out their own space and take a shot at the king.

Apple wasn’t always on top this year, showing that there is space for other makers. Xiaomi topped the wearables market twice during the year with its cheap fitness trackers, and Fitbit clung on stolidly though its ups and downs.

Fitbit Ionic

Image: Raymond Wong/Mashable

Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch didn’t drop until October, but it just received a slick new OS update that could actually give consumers a reason to check it out. The company, like Apple, is working to develop health-focused technologies for its smartwatch. 

Samsung’s Gear watches could find their own audience, and if Google can find a way to make Android Wear better, other makers like LG could still have a shot at success. The rise of AI could be a major boon here, since Assistant is becoming more ingrained in consumers’ lives through Google’s most recent round of hardware products, and it would make sense for users in the Google ecosystem to open up a spot for it on their wrists.  

For now, though, Apple is on top. 2017 was a good year for the company’s wearable efforts, and the future looks bright. 

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/12/12/apple-watch-won-the-wearable-war/

Why youll probably want the next Apple Watch

The next version of the Apple Watch could be a game changer.
Image: Getty Images

Apple is getting ready to launch a new version of the Apple Watch that doesn’t need to be paired with an iPhone in order to work, according to Bloomberg. The report, published earlier this month, claims the next version of the watch will include an LTE chip for internet connectivity and suggests the watch’s square casing may receive a radical new design.

If true, the next-generation Apple Watch’s features could make it the first truly must-have wearable product, finally offering people the right balance of connectivity, usefulness, and fashion credibility that they’ve been asking for.

The Watch wasn’t a breakout success initially, but over time, Apple has correctly adjusted to consumer sentiment and found a great niche for the product. The first iteration was marketed as a general smartwatch for everyone, but as excitement for the shiny new Apple product wore off, the company pivoted to emphasize health and fitness features, like a built-in GPS and water resistance. That shift led to stronger sales that appeared to put Apple atop the entire wearables market.

The third soon-to-be-released version of the Watch will likely continue this health and fitness focus that much was clear from the preview of watchOS 4 we saw at WWDC earlier this year. But it could also make the Watch even more useful for everyone in their everyday lives, making it a must-have for all of us in the iEcosystem.

Connectivity, everywhere

The most exciting rumor about the next-generation Apple Watch is, without question, standalone internet connectivity. Many market analysts believe that the addition of LTE connections will finally convince consumers that wearables are worth their time (and more importantly, money), giving them the ability to use their devices as more than a glorified extension of their smartphone. The feature could be the key for the market’s growth as it enters a “new phase,” in which sales are projected to double by 2021.

The new Apple Watch won’t be the first smartwatch to have standalone internet connectivity, however; the Samsung Gear 3 offered a mass-market 4G LTE-connected smartwatch and was launched last year.

But introducing LTE connectivity to the best-selling device on the market from the most visible company in the world will instantly bring the feature to a wider audience, letting Apple play off its image as an innovator even if Samsung was there first. This happens with the iPhone nearly every product cycle, and the gigantic base of Apple fans eat it up. There’s little reason to believe the Watch would be much different.

There are some concerns about how functional Apple’s standalone wearable could be in its first iteration. Screen size, battery life, and memory are already concerns for such a small device adding LTE chips and giving it even more processing power could make those problems even worse.

The Watch won’t ever be used for major tasks, though. It’s more likely to be used when production is secondary, like, say, when wearers’ hands are otherwise occupied. Runners and other exercisers will be relieved to ditch their phones and retain the ability to send texts, download apps, and stream music online. And a more general audience will be interested in boosting productivity, like when they first started using an iPhone.

LTE-connection will make the Watch all the more attractive to those of us who can’t spend a moment without being connected, which is one of the most important requirements of a gadget these days.

A fresh new look

The rumored new form factor for the Watch shouldn’t be taken lightly as a majorly attractive feature that could make it a must-have device. There’s even a rumor that Apple could introduce microLED screen technology with the new Watch, which could make it even brighter and better looking than the current OLED setup.

Smartwatches have previously fallen in the middle of a strange space between fashion and function, but the scales could be tipping toward looks as a potential determining factor for general consumers. Android Wear devices from major tech companies have largely struggled since the OS was updated earlier this year but fashion companies haven’t been deterred from using the platform, since their customers are worried about looks first, performance second.

If Apple, a famously design-centric company, begins to really treat its Watch like the fashion plate it has the potential to be, its general appeal could go through the roof as hypebeasts and fashionistas lust after the new form factor.

That type of sentiment doesn’t apply to most gadgets, where one generation replaces the last because it works better but in fashion, where aesthetics are the most important quality, consumers can justify buying a new model on looks alone. There’s more of an incentive to upgrade to the new redesigned Watch to go along with your Series 2 for Apple fans, too, giving them an opportunity collect them all and cycle between looks.

Some might be leery of Apple’s movement toward a fitness and fashion focused wearable (Mashable tech editor Pete Pachal chief among them), but the company will find a more receptive general audience by crafting a sexy, always-connected Watch.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/14/apple-watch-3-must-have/