Smartwatches aren’t just the timepiece of the future anymore. As the smartwatch market takes off, a fast-growing group of consumers are using them to go online as well as tell time.

Samsung has handily dominated the early stages of the market, accounting for 70 percent of devices shipped, according to Rich Trenholm at CNET, though the company may face stiffer competition once Google weighs in with Android Wear. Conspicuously absent, however, is more from the rumor that first launched much of the buzz around smartwatches: the Apple iWatch is nowhere to be seen, and Cupertino is saying nothing.

Telling Time Goes Futuristic

As Trenholm reports, a new survey by Strategy Analytics found that retailers are betting on the community of tech early-adopters to jump on the smartwatch trend in a big way. During the first quarter of 2014, smartwatch shipments shot up by 250 percent.

To be sure, as Brad Linder notes at Liliputing, the estimated half a million smartwatches that Samsung shipped represent a “71 percent market share of a market segment that barely exists” when compared to the market for smartphones and tablets.

The Strategy Analytics figures are for shipments to retailers, not final sales to customers. It is conceivable, as Trenholm and Linder observe, that the smartwatches will merely pile up in the stock room, but retailers seem confident that they will fly off the shelves as quickly as they come in.

In fact, the first-quarter figures may understate the demand for smartwatches, since they don’t include the most recently released products, such as Samsung’s Gear 2, Gear Neo, and fitness-tracking cousin the Gear Fit.

Samsung Takes the Lead

Samsung dominates the fledgling wearables space to the tune of 70 percent of the market, its position solidified by the wide popularity of its Galaxy Gear watch. So far, rivals such as Sony have failed to cut into Samsung’s early lead—and Samsung’s advertising muscle could make catching up a challenge. That may change, however, when Google’s wearable Android offerings become available; the first product to contain that technology will likely be the G Watch from LG.

There is one other potential Samsung rival that could, and almost certainly will, shake up the smartwatch market: Apple’s iWatch has been rumored for some time now, and it was interest in the iWatch that fueled the upsurge of interest in smartwatches in the first place. So far, though, news about the iWatch is available only from the rumor mill. Apple has remained resolutely mum, and no one outside the company can say for sure when or even if an Apple watch might actually appear, though some reports say the iWatch could debut this year.

Meanwhile, total shipments of wearables are expected to triple this year and reach an estimated 112 million by 2018.

As the smartwatch market takes off, will Apple jump in or hold back? And if it does jump in, will the iWatch—or whatever it’s called—be transformative or just a smartwatch for iOS users?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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