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Why the Moto 360 is winning the smartwatch race

Market researcher Canalys reports another spike in wearables, Gartner predicts health and fitness wearables will disappoint in 2015.

moto 360
Credit: Motorola

Last quarter, the Moto 360 topped the list of smartwatches, taking 15% of all shipments, according to Canalys. While Samsung’s offerings netted 52% of shipments, the overall category of wearable bands grew by 37% last quarter. Canalys credited the Moto 360’s success to its "appealing design," which gave it an edge over other Android Wear products.

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In hindsight, success appears simple, although having the foresight to design the right product in a fast-evolving market often eludes the best companies. Motorola Director of World Wide Communications William Moss responded to the Moto 360’s success:

"It was important to us to design a watch first and foremost, so that we would have a device that resonated with consumers and that stood on its own as a fashion item."

Compelling physical design is never a disadvantage, but in this case Motorola sidestepped having to force consumers to embrace both an entirely new concept of wrist-worn hardware and a behavioral change driven by wearable software.

The Moto 360 takes the Trojan Horse approach to entering the wearable race. Smartphone notifications, heart rate and activity, cloud-based health data, new apps and voice commands all on the wrist add up to a big behavioral change, made bigger by a wrist-worn device that looks foreign and doesn’t conform to the wearer’s fashion norms. The fashion appeal of the Moto 360 in this second wave of wearables is similar to the early success of Pebble watches, which became a fashion statement within the indie nerd culture while its software matured.

Contradicting Canalys, Gartner predicted a drop in fitness wearable bands next year.

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According to Gartner:

"This temporary dip in sales will be driven by an overlap in functionality between smart wristbands, other wearable fitness monitors, and smartwatches."

Smartwatches and wearable fitness monitors share more than a functional overlap; they share an overlap of functional inaccuracy because onboard sensors are still evolving. First to appear in this category was the Nike Fuelband, which didn’t even try to report real data, instead reporting activity on a relative point scale. Right now, both device categories measure relative activity and relative heart rates. That information is good to know, but it’s not really meaningful for the serious professional or part-time athlete who’s going to choose a chest strap to measure heart rate and strap on a smartphone for accurate time, distance, and speed. This will change as sensor technology improves.

A fashionable watch that delivers equivalent health and fitness measurements, the multi-functional Moto 360 at $249 is a compelling alternative to the uni-functional Fitbit ChargeHR at $149, as well as other similar devices.

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