Motorola has been in the wearables game longer than practically any other company. This was pointed out by Shakil Barkat, Moto's head of global product development and self-proclaimed "big fan of wearables," during a meeting with reporters at the company's Chicago headquarters this week.
"If you can remember that far back, we brought out the MotoActv back in 2009," an early play in the smart-ish watch field that, according to Barkat, was well ahead of its time. But today, things are different. For many, wearables have come and gone, and the industry is dealing with the reality that the category will likely never stand in for a drop in smartphone and tablet demand; the products are designed not to replace, but enhance, the smartphone in your pocket.
"There just isn't enough demand to build [a smartwatch] year over year."
"There just isn't enough demand to build [a smartwatch] year over year," he said, dampening hopes that the company would release a new Moto 360-branded smartwatch this year, or even next. While he wouldn't outright deny that the company is working on a follow-up to its popular Android Wear-powered wearable, he said that there wouldn't be a successor available at the launch of Android Wear 2.0, which is expected in early 2017.
Barkat did say that there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the wrist as a vehicle for wearables, but the current crop of devices — Moto 360 and other smartwatches, as well as fitness-based wearables — fulfil the current consumer demand, and until there are new reasons to innovate in the space, the release cadence will continue to be slow.
Dan Dery, vice president of global products at Lenovo and Moto, reiterated the claim, noting that the smartphone will likely always be the center of a person's computing world, and that there is still plenty of innovation left in that sphere, from flexible displays to "throwing" screens onto a nearby surface to share content with large groups of people. But he also said that wearables would continue to evolve to deliver "snackable" subsets of information that people want to consume throughout the day, and that Motorola is committed to bringing as much innovation to the space as possible. Right now, though, that requires a wait-and-see approach to the company's current product line.
Motorola is likely waiting until Google knows exactly what it wants Android Wear to look like.
Motorola is likely waiting until Google knows exactly what it wants Android Wear to look like. AW 2.0, which was delayed from a fall 2016 release to sometime in the first quarter of next year, works very differently from its previous iteration, and will have its own app store separate from Android's main concern. This goes against the generally-accepted trend that users don't actually find smartwatch apps particularly useful, preferring to use the hardware mainly for notifications and fitness, but Google likely has its reasons for pushing a wrist-based app strategy.
Whatever the reason for Moto's reticence, it appears to have been mirrored by the rest of the industry; Huawei, the other company that found success with a round Android Wear smartwatch, has yet to release a follow-up to its 2015 hit, and LG and Samsung have all but given up on the platform, the latter doubling down on Tizen with the Gear S series.
This isn't good news for anyone yearning for a Moto 360 without a flat tire, but it also lays bear the difficulty of sustaining momentum in a new product category, especially as it matures.
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