Downsides to wearables: Limited functions, inaccurate data, no cellular connection

Survey finds users want apps for safety and security, more than just health and fitness

One-fourth of new users of smartwatches and other wearables say their devices failed to meet their expectations, according to a survey by communications technology company Ericsson.

Also, about 10% of all users of wearables have abandoned their devices, one-third of them within two weeks of purchase, according to the survey released today.   The online survey was conducted with 5,000 smartphone users ages 15 to 65, in the U.S. and four other countries in March. Half of the the respondents were owners of wearable devices.

Of those who abandoned their devices, 21% said wearables were too limited in their functionality, with too heavy an emphasis on fitness and health apps instead of apps that increase their safety and security or perform other functions.  

Also, 23 percent said they want smartwatches and devices that have standalone connections to wireless networks, instead of having to pair via Bluetooth to a smartphone.  Nine percent said they gave them up because of inaccurate data and 8 percent did so because of the fast battery drain.

The findings are an indicator to makers of smartwatches and other wearables of what they need to focus on in coming generations of devices, Ericsson said. The next-generation Apple Watch, which may debut at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference next week, is reported to include a faster processor and cellular connectivity. Some Samsung smartwatches, such as the Gear S2, have already included cellular connections, instead of requiring a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone.

The disappointments with wearables aired in the Ericsson survey could partly explain why the smartwatch category has been slow to catch on.  Some analysts predicted Apple would sell up to 40 million Apple Watches in the first year, but market research firm IDC said the number was far lower, with just 13 million sold in 2015.

Meanwhile,  Samsung has openly expressed concerns about the category.

“Consumer objections to wearables are very legitimate, I can say,” said Jasmeet Sethi, senior researcher at Ericsson ConsumerLab and author of the wearable report on the survey. “They say, why should I invest in something which just does sleep and calorie counting when my needs are much more diverse? They see a lack of functionality, lack of connectivity, inaccurate data and a walled garden approach by vendors, but all four need to come together to ensure that wearables are a success.”

While some wearable apps work across both the Android and Apple Watch platforms, Sethi said vendors need to work harder to create cross-platform functionality.

Even with the reservations found in the survey, Sethi said wearables have a bright future. “The wearables boom will be around 2020, which gives the industry a window of four years to fix what is broken and go beyond health and wellness,” he added.

In the survey, Ericsson asked consumers about 20 different potential wearable applications to gauge their interest in them.  The highest ratings went to several safety and security apps such as a smart locator, a panic button capability, an identity authenticator (for airport check-ins or purchases) and a safe-driving wearable. After 2020, consumers were most interested in wearables such as a smart bracelet that would turn on the heat or air conditioning in a home after judging the body temperature of the wearer. 

Another novel item that generated high interest by participants was a smart water purifier that is comprised of a bracelet with a UV purifying light bulb that can be detached and placed in water to kill contaminants. The idea was generated from a UNICEF tech challenge called “Wearables for good.”

“Manufacturers are not reading the signs correctly in terms of what consumers need when they buy wearables,” Sethi said. “Most wearable manufacturers have to diversify [beyond fitness and health] and find other use cases. That will be a game changer.”

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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