When we weren’t looking, smartwatches became niche items

Smartwatch makers are focusing on workouts and activity tracking. What happened to making a smartwatch for anyone to wear all the time?

Misfit Vapor smartwatch

It became pretty clear when the Apple Watch Series 2 focused on athletes and exercise. If even Apple knew it couldn’t make a smartwatch that appealed to everyone, what hope did all the other market contenders have? And at this year's CES, you could see this trend playing out from tech outfits to traditional watch brands to athletic wear and shoe manufacturers.

When the Apple Watch 2 came out in September of 2016, it struck a fine balance in terms of new features and continuity—at least in terms of the product itself. But Apple’s positioning of the device changed dramatically. Instead of trying to be the perfect device for everyone to wear on their wrists all the time, it was now focused primarily on workouts and activity tracking. 

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The most talked about smartwatch introductions as CES last week confirm this trend—with a couple of interesting exceptions. 

The Casio WSD-F20, for example, is designed for outdoorsy types, with new features such as built-in GPS tracking for running and trekking. The Garmin Fenix 5 series is also aimed at outdoors use, while the New Balance RunIQ is all about making your runs smarter, naturally. 

Smartwatches breaking from the activity niche 

The exceptions come from smartwatch brands now owned by the Fossil Group—not traditionally thought of as a technology company—including Armani Exchange’s AX Connected, which appears to be all about looking rugged as a fashion statement. But the most interesting newcomer, from my perspective, is the sleek Misfit Vapor, which actually looks like something you might not be embarrassed to have on your wrist at the office or social occasions. 

Misfit is known for making wearables with elegant designs and quirky interfaces, and its first touchscreen smartwatch is a clever, attractive extension of that approach.  But it remains quirky, using Misfit’s own OS, which is controlled from the device’s bezel. 

That means it likely won’t be very extensible, so buyers will have to rely on Misfit’s own apps for everything they want to do with it. With that restriction in mind, I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t become a breakout hit, single-handedly reversing the trend toward smartwatches more suited to exercising than working or partying. 

Still, let’s hope the Vapor inspires makers of Android- and iOS-powered smartwatches—I’m looking at you, Apple, Samsung, Google, et al—to keep coming up with viable smartwatches suitable for a wider range of use cases. 

Oh, and did I mention the Misfit Vapor is round, instead of square, and not covered in a thicket of tiny buttons and protuberances? Kind of like a real watch, not a computer trying to hang to your wrist!

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