CES 2016 Recap: The Race for the Wrist Takes a Turn

Smartwatches have attracted a lot of attention in recent years and it seems like every manufacturer is trying to get into the game, but I was surprised to see what appeared to be a turn in the tides this year. In the race for our wrists, it looks like many manufacturers are taking a step back and focusing on specific functionality instead of being all things to all people with general-purpose smartwatches. In fact, some of these manufacturers are going so far as to ask consumers not to call their devices smartwatches, preferring to highlight their key functionality instead.


The Fitness Watch

Fitbit has been making great wearable fitness trackers for quite some time now, so I fully expected to find a new smartwatch at their booth at CES this year. Naturally, I wasn’t surprised to find a device that looked like just that, called the Fitbit Blaze. However, as I chatted with Melanie Chase, a Senior Product Marketing Manager from Fitbit, I was surprised to find out that the company would prefer to refer to the device as a “fitness watch” instead of a general-purpose smartwatch.


So what’s different about the Fitbit Blaze? It really focuses on fitness first with advanced fitness tracking features. The device tracks heart rate, automatically recognizes and records select activities, and even has on-screen workouts with step-by-step instructions. The best part is that you can expect up to 5 days of battery life from the Blaze. While it gives you call notifications, text notifications, and calendar alerts—just like a smartwatch—the Blaze’s fitness-first approach makes it a very appealing device.


The Digital Watch

Another interesting device this year was the Razer Nabu Watch, which Razer would prefer you to think of as a digital watch with smart capabilities as opposed to a smartwatch. What does that mean, exactly? Well, it means that the Nabu Watch focuses on being a reliable digital timepiece with functions such as a countdown timer, stopwatch, alarms, and world team features. All this can be found on its main screen, while a secondary screen brings you smart features: notifications from your smartphone such as calls, texts, emails, app alerts, and more. The Nabu’s main screen enjoys months of battery life—just like what you’d expect from a traditional digital watch—while the secondary screen will need a charge every seven days or so.


Like the Fitbit Blaze, the Nabu Watch was designed for a specific type of consumer: the gamer. With Razer’s long-standing reputation for manufacturing high-quality gaming accessories, I have no doubts that gamers will be scrambling to get their hands on the Nabu Watch when it launches later this month.


The Analog Watch

The popular brand of fashion watches, Fossil, jumped on the smartwatch bandwagon this past fall with its Q line of watches. The original Q line featured three analog devices and one digital. While the digital device was the most feature-rich when it came to smart functions, it was clear that Fossil recognized that many consumers are still looking for an attractive timepiece first and foremost. The company stayed true to this at CES with the introduction of yet another analog Q line device, the Q54 Pilot. The Q54 Pilot uses Intel technology to bring you basic smartphone notifications and activity tracking, but it’s clear that the device prioritizes aesthetics and a more traditional watch functionality: keeping time.


The Future of Smartwatches

Although there are a lot of general-purpose smartwatches on the market, and many consumers find them to be useful devices, I anticipate the trend towards specialized feature-sets to continue over the next few years. I believe a driving factor in this trend is the fact that many users already have computing power right at their fingertips in the form of a smartphone. Since smartwatches can’t exceed, or even match, smartphones’ capabilities, it can be difficult to justify dropping a few hundred dollars on one of these devices. However, consumers are more likely to find value in specialized features that appeal to their specific lifestyles.

By Mike Agerbo

January 19, 2016