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Are smartwatches getting too expensive?

By Adam Doud September 6, 2015, 1:00 pm

There is a disturbance in the force. You may have felt it. Perhaps you felt it on your wrist, perhaps in your wallet. Ever since a certain wearable came to market a few months back, something has been building. And it’s going to cost you, or someone, or perhaps everyone. Smartwatches have seen an upturn in price of late ever since the Apple watch came out with its base price of $350.


Premium costs

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these watches are premium watches. If you’re buying a $10,000 Apple Watch, the thing is made out of gold after all. That’s not a trivial thing. Further it could be said that now that smart watches are a thing, OEMs might be raising the bar a bit in terms of build, build quality, style, and a number of other factors that could account for the rising price tags. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s talk about why this topic is coming up in the first place.


The Moto 360 debuted around this time last year with a price tag more in line with devices of the time – $250, which was great because at the time the Moto 360 was one of the most attractive options out there. Fast forward to this past week, and we’re looking at a sequel in the range of $300 – $500. These are really high quality watches and still beautiful. So it’s not completely crazy that these devices are going to be expensive.

Perhaps these devices have been undervaluing themselves, and Apple revealed that a price hike was in order. Or perhaps there’s a perception that “cheaper” equals “inferior” in some respect. Maybe we’ve just completed the “beta-test” of the smartwatch and now stuff is getting real. Whatever the reasoning, smartwatches are getting better and more expensive, and maybe that’s ok.

Moto 360

And yet…

But are we at a point where OEMs can afford to make their watches more expensive? I’m not convinced, and neither is the general public, as evidenced by the numbers. Smartwatches are still an item that the public at large remains very dubious about. There’s a lot of convincing that needs to happen to get someone to open their wallet for what amounts to a luxury item or an “extra”. It occurs to me I’m using quotation marks a lot. Anyway.

Smartwatches are still very much the exception, rather than the rule in smart-device society. They’re simply not mainstream yet. In the public eye, they’re mainstream in that they can generally be recognized as being smartwatches (“Hey, is that the Apple Watch?”) but they are far from adorning every wrist out there. Now, OEMs are asking the public to open their wallets even further. Seriously?

Still need to cook

Let’s also consider two more things that are very much playing against the rising cost of the smartwatch. First, smartwatches still aren’t perfect. Actually, not only are they not perfect, they haven’t solved the most basic question marks. Most notably, but certainly not exclusively, they haven’t solved the battery life issue. These things simply die too quickly for the taste of many, many critics – and for the record, I’m not one of them.

Plus, Android Wear itself is still a maturing platform. It’s not done cooking by any stretch. There are some usability issues that it needs to get past, including knowing what cards are needed when. It’s improving, but is it there just yet? I’m not so sure.


Time to pay attention

Finally, consider the competition. The Pebble Time in particular is a fantastic option for 2/3 of the cost of the new Moto 360. Plus it’s developed by the company that has been a defining standard for the smartwatch industry pretty much since it this whole wearable category entered the public consciousness. The Pebble Time is a big deal, and it’s a lot less expensive than options that are coming out today.

The biggest worry I have about what seems to be a trend of higher prices is the barrier of entry keeps going up for this nascent platform. I don’t want to see it whither because of a perception that smartwatches have to be more expensive. It would be a mistake because, as I have said time and time again, smartwatches make your life better. At least $200 better. $350? I’m not as convinced.

Tread carefully

This is a dangerous time right now for smartwatches. We don’t want to see them priced into oblivion. But maybe we’re just seeing quality catching up. I’m not sure. What about you? Do you agree that as the quality bar rises, so should the price? Do you see the quality bar rising as fast as the price? Are smartwatches still at a point where they need to be sold for less so they can be sold in the first place? Put on your OEM hat and let’s see if we can figure this out.


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