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Summary:

Everyone seems to think that successful wearables will replicate functionality on existing devices. I don’t, at least not for a truly innovative smartwatch or wearable display. That’s why IDC’s latest thought on wearables hurting tablet growth makes no sense to me.

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I generally agree with many of IDC’s forecasts when it comes to mobile devices. I couldn’t disagree more with the latest one however. The research firm reduced its tablet sales growth for two reasons: Demand for larger phones and growth of wearables. I’m fine with the first reason because that’s one of semantics; at some point, larger phones will simply be considered voice-enabled tablets and I’ve said more than a year ago that such tablets will replace phones. But wearables?

Nexus 10 tabletSorry, but the whole value proposition of a tablet is the improved experience over a smaller screened device. Why then will consumers suddenly crave a small screen experience that’s going to be worse than on a big screen? Will people actually replace a tablet purchase with a wearable purchase?

The only reason I can think of for IDC to believe this is because it’s stuck in the same trap many others are: Thinking that smartwatches and other wearable displays will bring value as second screen devices that can also run apps. I’m taking a different view and alluded to it on Twitter earlier this week:

The innovation I’m expecting is in hyper-personal contextual data: A watch or wearable that knows where you are, where you need to be, what’s next on your calendar, what your likes and dislikes are. Think of a personal assistant that’s better suited for glancing at data points on your wrist then forcing you to retrieve a phone from your pocket.

I alluded to this earlier by saying I want Google Now and other contextual type features on my wrist. Yes, it’s available on a phone already, but I think the phone is really the second-best place for Google Now. A more effective place is on the wrist, in Google Glass or other small tech that becomes “invisible”.

Google Now cards

A tablet, on the other hand couldn’t be more visible. Yes, you can get contextual information on a tablet, but the more I think about it, the more I think that’s overkill. Give me a small screen that’s always an eye movement away for this type of helpful data. And I’ll take a tablet on the side for my apps, gaming, content consumption and other uses. But since the devices offer — or should offer — very different experiences, I don’t think we’ll see cannibalization of tablets through wearables.

  1. Analysts – I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them. Just your modern (well-paid) faery tale writers, and a good laugh at best.

    I’ve always gotten my best advice from fellow enthusiasts. They don’t get paid the big bucks or enjoy the front-page press, but these guys live and breathe the stuff they talk about, and know a hell of a lot more about technology than any corporate suit or media mogul.

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  2. This will happen when twin retina screens are located in narrow sunglasses giving a full 3D interface. Ironic that we then return to the cursor interface. This would be the 2 screens to rule them all.

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  3. I think what you might be missing is budget constraints. Buy a wearable in 2014 and you’re less likely to buy a new tablet.

    Desktop computers saw the same type of impact in 2012 and 2013. Buy a tablet and you’re less likely to upgrade your desktop.

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    1. Perhaps. But for many a tablet is replacing a computer. Similar products and use cases. I don’t see that with smart watches and tablets. Still, you’re right that budget / disposable income is a factor.

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  4. John S. Wilson Saturday, August 31, 2013

    I agree 100%. The smart watch can afford to be far more personal because it’s meant to be worn, and is far less likely to be shared with others.

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  5. Agree: Wearables + Tablets + Smartphone bring great complementarity today.

    Tomorrow: Smartwatch + Tablet ? if battery life issue for smartwatch is improved

    Do you agree to recharge wearables every day ? week ? month ?

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  6. I actually agree with the IDC that wearables will have a negative effect on tablet sales. Consumers have limited income – They typically have a percentage allocated to paying off their mortgage (or rent), another to pay for food, for electricity, for internet, for transport… And a chunk to spend on gadgets – I think that this gadget segment has been stretched to its limit in recent years – Tablets are already a luxury for the average person – I don’t think most people will be able to afford to buy both a tablet and a smart watch given their current prices – They’ll have to choose one.

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