Sharaf DG chief uncertain whether time has come for smart watches, fitness trackers

BARCELONA // The market for wearable technology such as fitness trackers and smart watches in the UAE remains deeply uncertain, according to the chief executive of Sharaf DG.

Nilesh Khalkho said the electronics retailer’s newly refurbished Times Square store in Dubai will have a dedicated section for wearable technology, including smart watches and fitness trackers.

But Mr Khalkho, speaking to The National at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, admitted that the long-term viability of the market remains unclear.

“A lot of the initial euphoria around wearable technology has died down,” he said. “They’re certainly being used by fitness enthusiasts, but it’s too early to say whether it’s going to be a lasting mainstream trend.”

Such concerns are shared by the industry itself, according to Idris Mootee, HTC’s chief marketing officer.

“About nine out of 10 of the products in this space are just toys,” he said, following the unveiling of the HTC Grip fitness tracker, developed in conjunction with the sportswear manufacturer Under Armour.

“People tend to wear them once, twice, maybe for a week and then put them aside.”

The industry analyst Gartner forecast that the market for wearable electronic fitness devices will grow 6.7 per cent to US$9.13 billion this year, with much of the increase to come from smart watches.

Huawei and LG both showed off two new smart watches at this year’s Mobile World Congress, days after Apple announced the launch event for its Apple Watch would be on Monday.

While smart watches are increasing in quality, the viability of the market remains unclear in the longer term, said Mr Khalkho.

“We’ve seen some very nice watch designs here, like the LG Urbane, and it’s going to be interesting to see what Apple comes up with next week, but it’s a big debate on what mainstream impact these devices will have,” he said.

“If I’m wearing a nice watch like a Rolex, am I really going to be persuaded to take that off and wear another device? At the end of the day, nobody wears two watches at the same time.”

Mr Khalkho predicted that Microsoft may be the one to watch in the UAE’s smartphone market this year, even though Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge have dominated the headlines at the congress in Barcelona.

“I think Microsoft will be extremely aggressive in the second half of the year in terms of promoting Windows 10,” he said.

“They are going to especially emphasise the ecosystem that it offers, which will work seamlessly across your phone, your Surface tablet, your PC and your Xbox.”

Microsoft’s head of devices Stephen Elop this week said the company would launch a Windows 10 device later this year.

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