IFA 2015 is over and, finally, everyone's cards are on the table. With the exception of the Tag Heuer Carrera Wearable 01, which is apparently set to arrive some time in November, there are no rumoured smartwatches that the world is still waiting to see.
We know what the Apple Watch looks like. It looks somewhere between ok and quite good depending upon who you are. We know it's sort of useful as well; now even more so because people have started paying with it too. More importantly, though, all the other tech manufacturers have breathed their sighs of relief / torn their hair out in panic / gone back to the drawing board, as they've seen fit, and had the chance to come out with their own versions of smartwatches that will be able to compete come the Christmas sales. And, by looking at what's come out at IFA, it's going to be a royal rumble of a competition.
The Asus ZenWatch 2, with its super-cheap €149 swing tag, has provided a price point at which almost anyone can get involved and still get a quality Android Wear experience with all the size, finish and strap customisations that everyone else is offering. The Moto 360 2015 edition might still have that black mark of a not quite round display blotting its copy book but it's learned to appeal to women with that smaller case size that it didn't have before, many more colours and straps, plus a Sports model that makes it one of the few Android Wear watches with GPS - something you can really run with.
It's Samsung, of course, that has made the biggest and most obvious refinements for its Gear S2 which, now with a little inspiration from the Apple Watch, looks like the timepiece to finally get its wearables taken seriously. Swatch-esque good looks, a digital bezel to take on Apple's Crown, and, of course, all the bright screen and connected technology one can find lying about in a Korean factory shop floor, and it's ready to tempt anyone with a newish Android phone over to the dark side.
Admittedly, none of these smartwatches are perfect but then neither is the Apple Watch, and that's what's going to make this Christmas's big craze so damned exciting. Sure, Apple will probably sell the most but it's unlikely to be by the kind of margin that it would have liked. It's not so good-looking that it outclasses the rest, it's not so fully-featured that it does everything you want and now it's not the only watch that will work with an iPhone either. Both the new Moto 360 and possibly even the Gear S2 are going to be compatible with the Jesus Phone, and let's not also forget the recently launched Pebble Time with its platform agnosticism and technophile crowd already chowing down on what was meant to be Apple's very own private buffet of a customer base.
And the Apple Watch can't even position itself as the best luxury buy either with the Swiss manufacturers like Mondaine, Breitling and the team behind the Withings Activité all offering that classic look that many will prefer. What's the richest company in the world to do? Well, add some nice touches with the watchOS 2 software in a few weeks time and then blow us all away with the second generation of the hardware come 2016, but that's not going to haul it out of the blood bath that's going to be this Christmas.
Indeed, it's Apple that's done all the hard work by raising customer awareness to the optimal point before we're over-taken by the consumer disappointment and realisation that maybe we didn't want these things in the first place.
The Apple Watch has had enough about it to keep it from a dusty death at the back of anyone's drawers for the moment. There's also the novelty of Apple Pay from one's wrist as advertised by an icon on NFC readers and that smug bloke in front of you with a better looking girlfriend and a faster car that just used it. Wow, he looks happy. Maybe I could be him if I bought a smartwatch and paid for my goods as seamlessly as he did?
Smartwatches have had such good will and so much that's new about them that they've barely had a chance to be found out. Anna Wintour and chums have officially embraced wearables as chic rather than geek, removing the social stigma of the smartwatch. You can finally draw oohs and ahhs instead of sneers and rebuke. You can get one that works with whatever phone you've got and there are so many faces, style, straps and prices that you can find one to match the person you really want to be.
There is $9 billion's worth of smartwatch sales expected in 2015 and the majority of that is going to be rear-loaded for the Christmas push. There's no Furbee to draw the coos, no Simon to stand in the way and no damn Tamagotchi crying in the kitchen because you haven't changed its virtual shitty nappy for four minutes.
Yes, this is the smartwatch's hour. It's hands are at high noon. In the long run, there's every chance that these companies that convinced us to take off our watches in the first and tell the time on our phones will ultimately fail to get us all to strap them back on on a permanent basis, but the moment they're almost certain to succeed is on 25 December 2015. Right now, we want to wear them; they want to sell them and there's very few people around at the minute trying to tell us that smartwatches are a bad idea.
That will happen with a growing chorus "I-told-you-sos" from an otherwise unheard from group of "no-you-didn'ts" in around 12 months time when our hardware's looking dated and all the batteries are flat. And we'll think more carefully about what we want our outmoded wearables to look like when they need to go back to being something to tell the time with and not much more than a pretty face.
Perhaps smartwatches will move on in some way come 2017? They may split into smart jewellery or other more subtle and attractive forms for those who want notifications, and sports watches for the sector for whom fitness tracking was the end-game all along. They'll also, doubtless, cause a resurgence in people wearing any kind of watch in a neat mirroring of the way they first removed that desire, and there's nothing to suggest that they're going to go away in any number either.
There's every chance that Samsung, Moto, Apple and friends will still be making smartwatches in the Christmases to come but it's hard to imagine that there will be such a thirst for them and a model whereby we expect to change them as annually as we do our phones. Christmas 2015 is when we go from no one having a smartwatch to everyone that's interested getting on board. That's a lot of quick sales that other years are unlikely to match.
So, when you unwrap yours this year, take a moment to ponder that you're part of the first great wearable wave. It's pioneers such as yourself that will allow your children to ride hoverboards and ignore you while they giggle with their friends in virtual chat rooms honking balloons of digital nitrous. Just don't expect them to be too impressed when you hand them over your ZenWatch 2 like it's some kind of heirloom.
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