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Are Smart Watches the New iPhone?

"The Great Gatsby" director Baz Luhrmann and Dodgers co-owner Peter Guber are among the early adopters of the wearable high-tech gadget.
Courtesy of Pebble; Courtesy of Samsung

Will the smart watch become the new must-have personal tech?

Smart watches combine timekeeping functions with features ordinarily associated with smartphones and tablet computers, such as making calls and sending and receiving texts and email. The devices are an early manifestation of so-called wearable tech, a product category that everyone from Kickstarter-funded startups to Google and Apple are targeting because of its potential for explosive growth.

Watches already available include Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy Gear — The Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann and Mandalay Entertainment CEO and Dodgers co-owner Peter Guber are early adopters — and Sony’s SmartWatch, along with a host of startups including the Pebble, funded with $10 million in Kickstarter donations. Galaxy Gear features include a camera, video capability and a preloaded weather and pedometer app, with the option of adding third-party apps.

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Sales of wearable technology — including fitness trackers like Nike’s Fuelband bracelet — soared nearly 300 percent in 2012 to 8.3 million devices. In an August report, technology analyst Generator Research predicted shipments of smart watches will reach 214 million devices with revenue of more than $60 billion by 2018.

In a survey, 20 percent of North American consumers said they would buy an Apple-branded smart watch if one were available, sight unseen. They may get their wish: Apple is reported to be deep in development of an iWatch made from flexible glass. Silicon Valley analyst Gene Munster predicted in November that Apple will release the iWatch in 2014, while Google reportedly is close to mass-producing its own smart watch.

The present generation of smart watches, while innovative and showing promise, only partially work as autonomous devices — they must be tethered wirelessly to a companion smartphone to make calls, receive email and perform other functions.

And some traditional watch fans aren’t onboard. “I’m of the generation that lives and breathes technology — I owned an iPhone the first day it came out,” Ben Clymer, founder of Hodinkee, the website devoted to watch trends, said recently. “I’m not really raring to put one on my wrist.”

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However, the Generator Research report predicted that, led by Apple’s entry and improvements in current products, the smart-watch market “will turn out to be a huge global industry” and that “a new generation will appear over the next 18 months that will redefine the category to the point that stand-alone smartphones as we know them now will be supplanted by smart watches.”

Guber is enthusiastic about his Samsung Galaxy Gear. “I have it on right now — I’m talking to you through it,” he tells THR. “It’s very clever wearable technology that functions well.” Guber likes that the device allows him to prioritize incoming email and calls. “I’m sitting in a meeting, I can glance down for half a second and maybe read the subject line. It’s a way to be discreet and stay connected. I take my main phone out much less frequently now.”

What do you think?

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