As expected, 2014 was indeed the year of the smartwatch boom -- if not in terms of sales figures, then at least in terms of product launches. Nearly all the leading consumer tech brands now have a stake in the market, from Apple to Samsung, Sony and LG. In early 2015, the release of the Apple Watch is bound to pique the curiosity of a new group of consumers and bring the technology into the mainstream.
Generally, smartwatches are wearable devices equipped with built-in sensors and wireless connectivity (wifi or Bluetooth), which allows them to be "tethered" to a smartphone. Through a simple glance at the wrist, the wearer can check alerts (incoming calls, texts, emails, social network notifications, sports results, etc.) while the smartphone is still tucked away in a pocket or a purse.
The latest edition of IFA in Berlin set the stage for several smartwatch premieres, including those of the Android Wear-based LG G Watch R, Sony SmartWatch 3 and Asus ZenWatch. The trade show also saw the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy Gear S, which runs on Tizen, the South Korean manufacturer's in-house operating system for wearables and other connected objects. A few days later, Apple stepped up to the plate to present its own very first smartwatch, which will not launch until Q1 2015.
In terms of design, the market has come a long way since the first wave of the somewhat geeky-looking devices from the likes of Pebble, Sony (SmartWatch) and Samsung (Galaxy Gear). Smartwatches are wearables, after all, and mainstream consumers require a certain amount of style. Current trends seem to include circular displays and details calling to mind traditional watches, as illustrated by the Moto 360, launched in September 2014. The model stands out from the competition for its relatively chic and discreet appearance, complete with a steel case and a leather band.
Other even more luxurious connected watches are due to hit the market soon. The South Korean start-up Kairos Watches, for example, is preparing to release what it calls a "mechanical smartwatch hybrid," which combines the beauty of a mechanical watch movement with the high-tech features and connectivity of a smartwatch.
One of the more buzzed-about smartwatch projects of 2014 is of course that of recording artist and tech entrepreneur will.i.am, who presented his highly anticipated Puls at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. Unlike the smartwatches on the market today, the Puls is a standalone device with its own SIM card slot, meaning that it doesn't have to be connected to a smartphone to allow users to make calls, send texts or browse social networks. This innovative device is due to launch in 2015 in the US and the UK via AT&T and O2, respectively. Pricing details have not been announced.
Despite all the product launches and buzz, the smartwatch sector is still in its infancy, according to market research firms. Nonetheless, Gartner points out that seven of the world's top ten smartphone makers have already launched their first smartwatch or are on the verge of doing so. In China, a number of manufacturers are developing relatively cheap Android Wear alternatives, which could rapidly boost smartwatch sales in Asia. While sales projections for 2014 and 2015 vary greatly from one analyst to the next, most of them agree on one thing: smartwatch sales are set to soar over the coming years.