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The entire smartwatch industry is waiting for the Apple Watch

The war for your wrist begins this spring

David Pierce editor-at-large and Vergecast co-host with over a decade of experience covering consumer tech. Previously, at Protocol, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.

At CES 2015, there are battlegrounds everywhere. Companies have come to Las Vegas vying for space in your home, in your car, on your face, in your pocket, on your desk, and in your car and your home a few more times. But the one place no one seems to care about this January is the place everyone thought was heating up the fastest: your wrist.

During the fall of 2014, it looked like the world would soon be awash in smartwatches. Samsung, Sony, LG, Asus, Motorola, Pebble, Meta — companies big and small attempted to find out what people want their wrists to do. Devices came hard and fast: LG made the G Watch, and then immediately learned a lesson from the Moto 360 and built the G Watch R. It was a perfect setup for CES — it’s a new, immature market, it’s relatively inexpensive to build the hardware, and there’s a rabid fan base of early adopters waiting to find the next big thing. Every booth would have a smartwatch, I figured. Big companies, Kickstarter projects, everyone.

That didn’t happen. Rather than trying to solve the smartwatch riddle before Apple can even get in the market, every company here in Las Vegas appears to be waiting to see what the Apple Watch can do.

We’ve seen a few smartwatches this week, sure. But they were either hyper-specific — Audi and LG’s watch that parks your car — or targeted to a niche Apple clearly won’t compete in, like the $149 Alcatel Onetouch. The only smartwatch at the show designed for anything like a mainstream audience is the new stainless steel Sony Smartwatch 3, and that’s just a slightly nicer wrapper on a fitness-focused device. Sony’s made five smartwatches already, but it’s clearly waiting to see what Apple does before it really swings again.

For any smartwatch to catch on, it has to succeed on a few fronts. It needs to be utterly simple to understand and use. It needs to offer something genuinely new and uniquely useful. It needs to look good. It needs to be seen by users and everyone as more than a gadget — it needs to be a fashion statement, a reflection of its wearer’s personality. It’s very much an open question whether even Apple can pull off this delicate balance, but Apple’s greatest asset is its ability to convince the world that its ideas are the right ideas. Smartwatches have a marketing problem, and the industry needs Apple to solve it as only it can. So the industry is waiting.

Apple’s famous for counterprogramming CES, for leaking news or announcing events to try and steal the thunder of the show away from its competitors. This year, though, there was no event, no announcement, no leak. (Except for a SIM-free iPhone 6, but that doesn’t count.) Apple’s counterprogramming came in September, when it announced the watch that everyone – including its competitors — is waiting for. CES happens in January, and there's remarkable innovation everywhere, but the war for your wrist begins this spring.

See all the latest CES 2015 news here ›

    The biggest stories of CES, Day One

  1. Internet of Things gets a Gun

    We've talked plenty about how the Internet of Things has become the biggest category at CES — a broad descriptor that basically means "everything is connected." Sometimes that's a flowerpot. One day it might be chairs. The Internet of Things's logical conclusion is The Internet of Everything. And that includes guns.

  2. Inside Adultdex, the cyberporn convention that time forgot

    Adultdex was far from the only place to find smut in Las Vegas. It wasn’t even the only smutty tech show in Las Vegas. But looking back, it’s fascinating how neatly it bookends a certain period in computing culture, where home computers became high-powered entertainment machines and the web was going to make everyone rich.

  3. A new LG Android Wear watch was just teased at Audi's CES press conference

    Audi's CES press conference isn't where we expected to get a tease of a new LG smartwatch, but that's how CES goes. Audi's Ulrich Hackenberg just summoned a self-driving car to the stage using an LG smartwatch, and the design doesn't match up at all with any others we've seen from the company — the three-button design in particular stood out to us.

  4. Dell's new XPS 13 has a stunning edge-to-edge display

    Dell is back with a brand new XPS 13 this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, and it looks like the best one yet. After gradually improving the screen with a new model last year, 2015’s XPS 13 will ship with an even better and truly beautiful 13.3-inch "infinity" display.

  5. Oculus is showing off great new 3D sound at CES, still no consumer edition

    Last year at CES, Oculus impressed us all with Crystal Cove, which would later become the second development kit of its Rift virtual reality headset. It's not doing anything nearly that big at CES 2015; its last major headset iteration, Crescent Bay, was unveiled last fall. But it is adding a new element that it only hinted at back then: spatialized audio, which does for sound what the Rift does for video.

  6. Can a small head-borne sensor help save athletes' lives?

    Difficult to measure and diagnose, concussive injuries have plagued players and coaches for decades. But a tiny head-mounted sensor called the Linx Impact Assessment System could change all that.

  7. Intel's RealSense technology taught a drone to fly itself

    Four men — one in a suit, three in black shirts — stood around a single drone, buzzing restlessly in the middle. One man rushed at the drone, which quickly veered out of the way... right into the waiting arms of another. The four men passed the drone among each other, never touching or controlling it, only moving it around by flailing their arms and moving in its direction. The drone knew the men were coming, and it avoided them all on its own.

  8. Bang & Olufsen created a stylish tablet with touch-sensitive wooden controls

    For many of us, smartphones have taken over as the way we control our home stereos, but Bang & Olufsen wants to bring us back to using a single-purpose device that's dedicated to music. Its solution is the BeoSound Moment, a two-sided tablet that accesses your music in the cloud and tries to intelligently play what you want to hear.

  9. This is Pono, the $399 high-end audio player Neil Young created

    Pono is here. The people who supported Neil Young's music player through Kickstarter — and there were a lot of them — have already received their special edition units, and now the high-res audio device is available to music lovers everywhere for $399.

  10. Razer’s Forge TV is an Android micro-console with PC gaming roots

    When Google launched its Android TV software in June of last year, part of the big announcement was the promise of a new gaming micro-console produced by respected peripheral maker Razer. Today, that device has been fully detailed and specced out: the tiny Razer Forge TV runs Android TV on a quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, costs $99.99 ($149.99 with a controller), and will ship in the first quarter of 2015.

  11. Apira Science's iGrow: lasers in the service of ending baldness

    The company's iGrow laser therapy was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use by men in August, and for use by women in December. It works using low-level light therapy, which uses a laser set to a certain amount of energy and a certain wavelength — both cold lasers and LED devices can be used.

  12. Someone brought a giant shell of silence to CES

    Take a seat inside of Selentium's Comfort-Shell — what it refers to as a literal cone of silence. Shell is a better way of referring to it, because it basically looks like a giant, white version of those spiky shells that Lakitu throws in the original Mario.

  13. I put on a smartphone-controlled insole and told it to warm my feet

    As I write this, my right foot is slightly warm because I have just been standing on a smart, heated insole. It's called the Digitsole, and it's able to heat your feet, track your steps, and tell you how many calories you've burned by walking.