​Wearable brands report card 2015: Apple for the teacher, resits for Fitbit

Which companies have been listening in class and need to stay behind?
Wearable brands report card 2015

And so to the end of another Wareable academic year. It's been a fascinating 12 months. Many of our students have flourished. A few have foundered. And we've also had the pleasure of adding a few new faces to our number.

But, new or old, all have been judged evenly under pedagogical gaze. As such, these are our end of year reports for each here at our school of wearable technology. This is how they've fared.

Apple

Better attendance than last year. How very kind of Apple to grace Wareable with its presence.

Product design

Tidy if unspectacular; Apple finally handed in its single, and admittedly impressive, project in the Spring term. We rather enjoyed the choice of styles even if the cartoon character watch face proved our suspicions of childish behaviour correct. Apparently, indeed, one cannot account for taste. However, it quickly embarrassing those in the common room here by outselling all the other students. A

Innovation

We continue to be astounded by the spell that Apple seems to hold over the rest of the school but this student has not pulled the wool over our eyes. Aside an interesting touchscreen and some expensive straps, we're not overly impressed - although we do have to admit that we've never seen anything like the Digital Crown before. What irks is that a little more application and Apple could really come out with something astounding. We can only trust that recent classroom boasts of a new watch next Spring will come to an impressive fruition. B+

Verdict

Late, not wildly inventive and yet, frankly, outstanding sales. We trust that Apple isn't getting too much help with its work outside of school. We've had few progressive partnerships to speak of but the large range of price points - from the luxury to the affordable - has been well observed. A-

Motorola

Who? Oh, yes the one with the round watch.


Product design

This year in the classroom has been one of careful consolidation from Motorola if we're to be generous. A second edition of its smartwatch has been well created with more customisation as well as some thought for the female half of the population. No tittering, at the back. Sadly, we've barely had a chance to look at the 360 Sport work given its rather tardy deadline. B

Innovation

There's been really nothing new from Motorola; nothing to convince us that it has the potential to be top of the class. Our suspicions have been raised by yet another Moto Hint edition that seems to have gone largely ignored. D

Verdict

The addition of the Moto 360 Sport complete with all-important GPS is a welcome member of the Android Wear sports team. Let's hope that positioning itself as one of the few Android Wear devices that can properly track runs pays off. We shall see. B+

Google

Ah, Google. Definitely down a peg or two this year.

Product Design

Nest Cam and Brillo, eh? One, product conveniently acquired from a former student and the other more of a promise than anything we've actually seen. This has not been the best 12 months for Google. At least there's been some good work on Android Wear. More will be required to stay out of summer school next year. C-

Innovation

Google's been on time with its homework all year, and handed in all of it's updates for Android Wear on time. The superb work with gesture control, Wi-Fi connectivity and eSIM for untethered smartwatches has been welcome even if other students in Google's group haven't backed it up, with the failed launch of the LG Watch Urbane Second Edition. B

Verdict

A good year for Google, it's cemented its place at the top table of wearable tech. We hesitate to add Life Sciences (or is it Verily? Do make up your mind, Google) to the innovation section given that it's all been hot air so far, but it's certainly a sensible idea to create a project around biotechnology. On the more commercial front, it's hard to argue with Google's nouse of placing Tony Fadell in charge of Project Aura given the utter debacle of the Google Glass Explorer homework which fell to pieces during show and tell. B-

Garmin

Had hoped for more. We might be due 'a little chat' to avoid further slipping down the class.

Product design

There's been some good bits and pieces from Garmin this year but a little focus on one or two key projects might have been a better approach. The Vivoactive fitness watch has been the best received by far and really the only creation up to standard. The Garmin Forerunner 630 has been, well, what we expected, although it's done a good job at learning some smartwatch skills from its classmates. Standing still only loses ground at this school. C+

Innovation

Stutters and stammers do not best get Garmin's message across at school. Incorporating the wrist-based optical heart-rate monitoring from former student Mio was certainly a reasonable idea with the Forerunner 225 but it's now flip-flopped to its own technology. C-

Verdict

Pairing up with Strava shows that Garmin can share nicely in class, but a lack of confidence is perhaps why we've not seen it really take any risks in 2015. It's losing ground to Fitbit in terms of growth, and momentum seems to be with the latter. C

Samsung

Quite the teacher's pet, aren't we?

Product Design

Well, we'll have to eat our mortarboard. Samsung has listened to last year's criticism, gone away over the summer, worked its little socks off and utterly impressed. Well done. The Gear S2 has been fabulous - even if we suspect a little peering over Apple's shoulder in the creation of the digital bezel. It's the first smartwatch we've seen from Samsung that's been more than simply derivative. Actual creativity, Samsung; we are impressed. A

Innovation

That bezel has been a dream but, perhaps more telling and progressive has been Samsung's focus on virtual reality. Gear VR is more than just another viewer and, more importantly, has the opportunity to quickly establish itself as a viable and available alternative to Oculus Rift. Clever, clever, Samsung. A

Verdict

Strong work in three major wearable discipline has made Samsung something of a complete student in 2015. Smartthings, Gear S2 and Gear VR are smart homes, smartwatches and virtual reality at some of their best. With all modules completed to a very high standard, it gives us pleasure to afford Samsung a top grade here. A

Fitbit

A lot of hot air.

Product Design

With not a single piece of work handed in all year, Fitbit only has itself to blame for a non-passing mark in this class. A repeat of the year required. U

Innovation

After sleeping its way through my classes over last 12 months, Fitbit only woke up in December to make the kind of promises of new sensors and new technology that may just have saved its career at this school. N

Verdict

While a lack of new tech has held Fitbit back, we can't overlook its strong exam scores. Great sales figures and a mega IPO show that Fitbit is still top of the class. We're expecting some new products straight off the bat in 2016. B

Sony

Interesting and industrious if not entirely impressive.

Product design

Hardly ground-breaking in product design but Sony has at least been busy this year. The SmartWatch 3 Steel is, physically, a very complete and attractive project and the new PlayStation VR also looks great. Bonus marks for the looks of the FES e-paper watch, even if Sony has not been generous enough to share it with our class. B

Innovation

Again, lots of good effort here although there have been one or two dubious moments along with the inspired strokes. Mechanical and e-paper based smartwatches scored well, and its focus on VR is admirable. However, the less impressive B-Trainer headphones and SmartBand weren't highlights. B

Verdict

The fantastic SmartWatch 3 and PlayStation VR make it hard to criticise Sony in 2016, but let's not forget its . C

Microsoft

Microsoft shows promise, even if it's at the second bite of the cherry.

Product design

There's been a distinct lack of effort from Microsoft when it comes to handing in the required coursework. The reworking of the activity tracker helped matters, but it's still only marginally less ugly than its predecessor. C-

Innovation

Full marks for innovation when it comes to HoloLens platform, but with precious little actually revealed about the user experience, it's hard to mark Microsoft's homework. The Microsoft Band was more evolutionary than revolutionary, and murmurs of Cortana hearable are little more than just playground tittle tattle. C+

Verdict

A partnership with Valve is a decent token deal but there's been little else of business since. D-

Misfit

A solid year for the company saw it graduate to fashion school.

Product design

Neither the Shine 2, Speedo Shine nor the Flash Cyclist were particularly bold departures from what Misfit had already achieved in 2014 – and we feel that Misfit's constant reinvention of the same product was a little lazy. C-

Innovation

While trotting out the same product for different markets is hardly innovative, we can't ignore Misfit's school prize for creating the first entirely solar powered wearable tracker back at CES in January. The reinvention of the Flash as a smart home button was also a neat piece of work. B+

Verdict

Misfit's had a solid 2015, but its scholarship from Fossil at the end of the year means we expect big things next term. A-

Jawbone

Splitting Jawbone and Fitbit up in class might have stopped them from copying one another but the fighting has continued. Jawbone could do with bucking up its ideas up in 2016.

Product design

Jawbone had a tough start to the year with the debacle over its release of the UP3, and when it did arrive it failed to cut the mustard. However, it got back to basics with the UP3 and after its resits managed to push out a huge update to the UP3s software that addressed a lot of its failings. Solid. B

Innovation

Usually it's me who has to tell the students off for falling asleep in class but Jawbone's UP2 and UP24 fitness trackers this year have been the best cure for insomnia I've ever seen. Designs are competent and the updates well made but surely there was something else learned over the year to show? C

Verdict

It was a startling start to the year with Jawbone rumoured to be unable to afford its tuition fees but a $300m investment from elsewhere seems to have done the trick. We'll have to see how long it keeps this now comparative class minnow in our number. Playground alliances with American Express for payments in the UP4, Huawei for baked-in tracking technology and Runtastic's data platform have all been good moves. B+

Xiaomi

A good start from our new Chinese student. Classmates should be concerned for 2016.

Product design

Sadly, Xiaomi's most interesting design it neglected to bring to class from Asia. We'd love to have seen those smart trainers. Otherwise, it's all been fairly cheap looking but then that's the USP, so we're told. C

Innovation

While less than impressive in the electronics class, Xiaomi excelled in maths. Managing to release the original Mi Band and the new Mi Band Pulse for just $15 is a fine body of work B-

Verdict

Xiaomi's march into our mark books has been most astute. With a stack them high and sell them cheap model to its machinations, it's shaken up the rest of the class with something altogether unexpected. We had never before considered that wearables could be so democratic, and why not indeed? A

TomTom

Some new strings to the bow. Good groundwork for next year.


Product design

All of TomTom's homework ends up looking rather similar. We did think it was trying to pull the wool over our eyes to begin with. Ultimately, we'd like to see a little more attention paid to aesthetics but it's hard to argue with functionality which, as ever, has been accurate and thorough this year. B+

Innovation

Spark by name but perhaps not such a spark by nature; TomTom would agree that this year's performance has been about keeping things simple and making the best of existing technology. Peter-Frans Pauwels told us as much himself at parents' evening. However, we'd like to see something in the way of flair for the coming months. C-

Verdict

It's been a quiet and confident shift from sat navs to sports and fitness but TomTom has navigated those waters with great aplomb probably thanks to the guidance of that solid GPS. With golf, fitness, running, cycling and swimming all now represented - complete with heart-rate tracking and music - we look forward to seeing how this student will build on its 2015 achievements. A-

TAGGEDWearables

2 Comments

  • mosamjc says:

    I think it's time to deal Pebble into the game. They've been a driving player for too long now (at least in the short time the modern smartwatch has been a thing).

  • belfastbiker says:

    find whoever wrote this nonsense and fire them.

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