First-to-market means diddly when it comes to smartwatches

Samsung's early entry with Galaxy Gear could be a proving ground for Apple's iWatch premiere in 2015, analysts say

The old wisdom that "first-to-market" technology products will win out gets thrown out the window when it comes to smartwatches and some other wearables.

Note 3 smartphone and Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Carriers are selling Samsung's Note 3 phablet and Galaxy Gear smartwatch as a package. (Image: Samsung)

Samsung launched its first Galaxy Gear smartwatch for $300 last September and followed up with the Gear Fit and two new Gear smartwatches in February.

Even though electronics giant Samsung dominates smartphone sales globally, and is an early entrant in the smartwatch market, that's no guarantee it can build the pizazz and customer loyalty for smartwatches that might accompany Apple's inevitable entry into the category.

Another tech monolith, Google, unveiled the Android Wear wearables platform in March. Even so, many analysts now agree Apple won't unveil its rumored iWatch until 2015, shipping it perhaps a full two years after the first Galaxy Gear.

Android Wear will run on at least two smartwatches, the Moto 360 smartwatch from Motorola and the G Watch from LG Electronics, which are scheduled to go on sale this summer.

"As both Google and Apple will likely be [smartwatch] players in 2015, this could negate Samsung's [early to market] advantage," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

While an early entrant, Samsung wasn't first-to-market with smartwatches. A number of mostly smaller vendors have sold smartwatches with some limited functionality for several years. Sony, with its huge portfolio of electronics products, announced its first SmartWatch in April 2012, then followed with the $200 SmartWatch 2 last October. It also announced its SmartBand wristband for $130 in February to work with its Lifelog fitness app.

Sony's smartwatches and the Samsung Galaxy Gear haven't been a solid hit with the market despite their early entrances and despite the sizeable marketing capabilities of both companies.

"First-to-market only matters if you have a killer product or you are trying to define a category," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel. "Galaxy Gear was [one of the] first to market, but it did not make a difference in terms of sales."

What could matter, she said, is if a manufacturer like Samsung introduces a wider range of related products, such as the Gear Fit wristband that can be used to measure pulse rate and other biometrics. "Our data shows that vendor loyalty increases by 20 percentage points for users that buy multiple devices, such as a phone or tablet, so having different tech categories certainly helps a manufacturer," she said.

IDC recently said Samsung came out on top in an online ConsumerScape 360 survey of more than 50,000 consumers in 26 countries when asked to name their most trusted brand for wearables. Samsung beat out Apple, Sony and Google in that category.

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