One of the products that seemed to take Mobile World Congress by storm last week was the new second generation Smartwatch by Huawei. I currently use the company’s first generation watch largely because it was considered to be the best of the first generation of non-Apple smartwatches. Although I’ve had it for less than a year, I’ll be swapping it for the second generation as soon as I’m able to order one. This is one of the first Android Wear 2 watches and one of the first to use Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 2100 chipset.
Now, I still think this entire category needs to be rethought if it is ever to reach its true potential, but this second-generation Smartwatch from Huawei is a better watch than Apple has yet made, and it should lead the class when it comes to market in April.
What is a Watch?
If I were to ask you back in 2000 or most anytime in the last century what a watch looked like, you’d point to something like a mechanical Rolex or Timex. You’d likely argue that a watch is first and foremost a timepiece and designed with a circular case preferred by most buyers because it properly displays a fast to read analog watch face. Yes, we’ve had digital watches, but the market has largely remained, particularly at the high end, one tied to the traditional look of a watch. This is one of the areas where I think Apple screwed up because it created something closer to a wearable iPod, and it owned that brand, yet it named its product the Apple Watch, creating a discord because it doesn’t really look like a watch. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, only that it just doesn’t fit our idea of what a watch should look like. In addition, thanks largely to Apple’s iPhone, millennials had largely decided that a watch was redundant to their phones, so Apple’s product had to fight two waves: a bad name and a trend it largely created against the entire watch class.
The one counter trend was fitness bands, which mostly didn’t look like watches, led by Fitbit, that were more of an iPod-like product in that they did far fewer things but did them well. That was one of the defining features of the iPod; it was very simple and easy to use. With a lot of heavy lifting in terms of marketing dollars and the loyalist installed base on the planet, Apple does have strong market share with over 50 percent of the market, but with a tiny fraction of the sales volume of the iPhone it connects to, and that share is dropping thanks to the success of competing Android offerings.
This starts out looking like a watch and it is more of a blend of watch functionality with a fitness band than a fully functional tablet-like platform. The watch face actually looks like a watch in default mode and, depending on the face selected, shows other critical data like heartrate, steps, music being played, battery life remaining and date. One thing I found annoying with the first generation of Android Wear was that social media alerts tended to obscure the face, detracting from the appearance of the product, and that has been addressed in this second generation. Also addressed is the need to connect to a smartphone as this newer watch supports LTE connectivity and can make and receive calls as well as stream music without any secondary device nearby.
This is critical for both a watch and a fitness band because carrying a phone all the time, particularly while exercising, is annoying and sometimes even dangerous. But leaving the phone behind could mean the difference between life and death if you were injured or had a heart attack. One other unique benefit of this product not yet shared with fitness bands or other watches is the ability to measure oxygen absorption; this could be critical for those trying to optimize their workout. Finally, the watch has a ceramic bezel which should better protect the Gorilla Glass lens and resist scratching better than metal; this is important because we tend to hit stuff with our watches a bit.
Granted, this makes the Huawei Watch 2 bigger than an Apple Watch, but if you hold it up next to most of the current trend of high end watches like the Invicta watches I have, it is actually smaller and lighter. It is likely too large for most women, but I don’t see a lot of women wearing the Apple Watch either. For women I expect the new Fitbit Alta HR to be preferred, largely due to size and fashion options, over any current generation Smartwatch (it is due out at the end of this month).
The Huawei Watch 2, shipping in April for a price expected to start around $350, is a better Smartwatch than the Apple Watch. It looks more like a watch, it better embraces the fitness band level of functionality, and it isn’t tied to an iPhone. It not only works with Android phones, but is also able to work completely independently from any phone, a critical safety feature for many of us at risk (I’d like to see a single button call 911 feature).
But this is a very fluid market and there are an increasing number of vendors in the hunt. I still wonder, though, if we shouldn’t step away from the watch metaphor altogether and instead create something that would do a better job of replacing the smartphone with something that is both wearable and less distracting than a smartphone currently is. I expect we’ll eventually get there but, until then, the Huawei Watch 2 likely sets the bar for what a smartwatch should be.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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