Why you shouldn’t buy a smartwatch as a gift

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I’ve been watching the smartwatch market closely and I have several of the devices. I’ve pretty much stuck with the Fitbit Surge as my favorite, but admit it is far from the most attractive or capable. It just does what I think my basics are well and it isn’t excessively expensive for something I doubt I’ll be wearing a year from now.

I think this speaks to the fact that—even if someone tells you what they want—you should let them buy it themselves. Chances are they’ll want something completely different in a few months and that expensive gift will effectively be tossed out. Personally I’m ok with something I paid $20 for becoming quickly obsolete, but if I bought someone a $200 gift they asked for they damn well better be using it for at least a year—and preferably a lot longer.

Let’s talk about the issue with smartwatches as a gift this week.

Four Flavors

Smartwatches come in 4 flavors right now. There are fitness-focused exercise bands, fashion-forward watch-like products, and fashion-forward iPod-like products—all of which need your smartphone to work, and a class that doesn’t need a smartphone to work. That is a lot of variety particularly when few folks have used one of these things and likely have no clear idea what set of features will be really sustainable.

In addition, in many cases, these just replicate what the smartphone already does which means a large chunk of buyers may wear the watch a few times and simply decide it is kind of a pointless alternative to doing what they currently do—look at the phone.

Finally the watches have a very limited display so they kind of suck at being a phone alternative. There are exceptions like the Rufus Cuff but the size of those alternatives tend to give folks pause.

Fitness Forward

This is likely the safest category. Products like the Fitbit line and Microsoft Band stand out in this category as focused and tied to fitness apps that make the watches useful. Because these have been in market the longest, and this is by far the most stable category, this is also the safest one to pull from for a gift.

These products don’t try to be everything for everyone and, as a result, they tend to do the few things they are focused on well. Still you’ll see a lot of variance in both the accuracy of the sensors and comfort so the safest bet would be updated replacement for a product the gift recipient already loves and the least would be for someone that currently isn’t exercising much but has a history of looking at technology as a fix for their lack of motivation.

Fashion Forward

These products are like the Moto 360 not in its current version and the new Huawei smartwatch. This is best for folks who love cool looking watches and wear them regularly. These look like high quality watches, their screens emulate high quality watches and the recipient is happy if they just tell time accurately which they do. This is a fashion statement but if the recipient doesn’t wear a watch today it seems unlikely a device in this class alone will change that. Be aware this entire class is relatively large and thick and, as a result, unlike the Fitness Forward products, these are typically too big for most women. Even the women’s version of this class are likely bigger than they would typically comfortably wear.

Wrist iPods

The Apple watch is the lead candidate and clearly the most successful product. It remains kind of ironic that the market was ahead of Apple on this by supplying watch bands for iPod Minis years ago then Apple changed the design so you couldn’t make this work for under $200 then brought out the far more expensive Apple watch. For an Apple fan this is the product, but they really have to love Apple to stick with it. Those that love Apple religiously use this as a status symbol and statement of price, those that don’t eventually will likely conclude it is redundant and rather foolish, so choose accordingly.

Wrist Phones

This is a class for male geeks only. These products are huge. They typically have horrid battery life, but you can use them without your phone. They are limited, though, so you’ll likely still have your phone on you when wearing one. There isn’t a single product in this class that even remotely makes sense unless you always wanted to be Dick Tracy and have your phone on your wrist. Ironically, if head mounted displays ever take off, this could become the dominant form for a Smartwatch but, until then, the combination of relatively small screen, poor battery life, high cost, and huge form factors will likely relegate this to the most geeky of users. For the recipient who likes to have something really different and just values weird stuff this class could be the right choice, for everyone else not so much.

Wrapping Up: The Perfect Smartwatch

This is likely a product someone needs to buy for themselves. When you are spending your own money you are likely going to spend a bit more time figuring out which, if any, of these things is right for you. If it is someone else’s money then the practice of deciding after is far more acceptable because it isn’t your money. So, as a gift, these are very risky but hopefully the pointers I’ve given will help make sure—if you decide to go down this path—that there is a good chance your recipient will be wearing your gift for at least a few months and not tossing it into their tech dustbin after a few hours. Good luck!

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About Author

As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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